Level and comfort of caregiver–young adolescent communication on sexual and reproductive health : a cross-sectional survey in south-western Uganda

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Cecilia Akatukwasa, Viola N. Nyakato, Dorcus Achen, Elizabeth Kemigisha, Daniel Atwine, Wendo Mlahagwa, Stella Neema, Gad Ndaruhutse Ruzaaza, Gily Coene, Godfrey Z. Rukundo, Kristien Michielsen


Background Communication on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) between caregivers and their young adolescent children plays a significant role in shaping attitudes and behaviours that are critical to laying the foundations for positive and safe SRH behaviours in later adolescence. Nevertheless, this communication is often limited, particularly in countries where adolescent sexuality is taboo. This study assessed the topics discussed ('level') and the comfort of caregivers with communicating with young adolescents on SRH, and their correlates. Methods A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 218 caregivers of young adolescents (10-14 years) in Mbarara district of south-western Uganda in January and February 2020. Participants were selected through consecutive sampling. A structured, pre-tested questionnaire administered by interviewers was used for data collection. The surveys were computer-assisted using Kobo Collect software. Data was exported to STATA 14 for analysis. Level of SRH communication was measured based on 10 SRH communication topics, while comfort was based on 9 SRH discussion topics. Bivariate and multivariate linear regression analyses were conducted to determine correlates of level of, and comfort with, SRH communication P-value < 0.05 was considered for statistical significance. Results The mean number of topics that caregivers discussed was 3.9 (SD = 2.7) out of the 10 SRH topics explored. None of the respondents discussed all the topics; 2% reported ever discussing nine topics with their young adolescent, while 3.5% reported never discussing any of the topics. General health and bodily hygiene (89.9%) and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (77.5%) were the most commonly discussed, while night emissions in boys (4.3%) and condoms (8.3%) were least discussed. The majority of caregivers (62%) reported a high level of comfort with discussing SRH. The mean comfort score was 21.9 (SD = 3.8). In general, the level of SRH communication increased with an increase in comfort with SRH communication beta = 0.22 (0.04); 95% CI = (0.15, 0.30). The level of comfort with SRH communication decreased with an increase in the number of YAs in a household beta = -0.92 (0.38); 95%CI = (-1.66,-0.18). Conclusion Overall, the level of SRH communication is low and varies according to the number of SRH topics. Caregivers' comfort with SRH communication with YAs was a significant correlate of SRH communication. This justifies the need for interventions that aim to improve caregivers' comfort with communicating with young adolescents about SRH. Plain English summary Communication between parents and children about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) during the early adolescence stage (10-14 years) plays a significant role in creating positive reproductive health outcomes in later adolescence and adulthood. We conducted surveys in rural areas of Mbarara district among 218 pairs of caregivers and their children aged 10-14 years between January and February 2020. The purpose of the study was to understand whether there is communication between the two, and how comfortable they felt having discussions about SRH. We also asked caregivers and their children about their knowledge of SRH, and how they generally felt about SRH for young people. This study, however, reports only results from caregivers. We found that, on average, caregivers discussed 4 of the 10 SRH topics explored in this survey with their child, and that the majority of the caregivers reported being very comfortable discussing SRH-especially general health and bodily hygiene-with their children. On the whole, we found that caregivers' SRH communication was largely influenced by their comfort with discussing SRH with their adolescent child. The level of comfort was influenced by the number of young adolescents living in a household. However, there is no clear justification for this finding from existing literature. In conclusion, there is a need for interventions that facilitate improvement of communication on SRH between parents/caregivers and young adolescents. These should focus on improving comfort levels by promoting communication skills for caregivers and emphasizing value clarification.




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