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Open Access Research article

The influence of demographic characteristics, living conditions, and trauma exposure on the overall health of a conflict-affected population in Southern Sudan

Bayard Roberts1*, Eliaba Yona Damundu2, Olivia Lomoro3 and Egbert Sondorp1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London, WC1 H 9SH, UK

2 Social and Demographic Statistics Department, Southern Sudan Commission for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, Juba, Southern Sudan

3 Directorate of Research, Planning and Health Systems Development, Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan, Juba, Southern Sudan

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:518  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-518

Published: 27 August 2010

Abstract

Background

There remains limited evidence on how armed conflict affects overall physical and mental well-being rather than specific physical or mental health conditions. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of demographic characteristics, living conditions, and violent and traumatic events on general physical and mental health in Southern Sudan which is emerging from 20 years of armed conflict.

Methods

A cross-sectional survey of 1228 adults was conducted in November 2007 in the town of Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. Multivariate linear regression analysis was used to investigate the associations and relative influence of variables in three models of demographic characteristics, living conditions, and trauma exposure, on general physical and mental health status. These models were run separately and also as a combined model. Data quality and the internal consistency of the health status instrument (SF-8) were assessed.

Results

The variables in the multivariate analysis (combined model) with negative coefficients of association with general physical health and mental health (i.e. worse health), respectively, were being female (coef. -2.47; -2.63), higher age (coef.-0.16; -0.17), absence of soap in the household (physical health coef. -2.24), and experiencing within the past 12 months a lack of food and/or water (coef. -1.46; -2.27) and lack of medical care (coef.-3.51; -3.17). A number of trauma variables and cumulative exposure to trauma showed an association with physical and mental health (see main text for data). There was limited variance in results when each of the three models were run separately and when they were combined, suggesting the pervasive influence of these variables. The SF-8 showed good data quality and internal consistency.

Conclusions

This study provides evidence on the pervasive influence of demographic characteristics, living conditions, and violent and traumatic events on the general physical and mental health of a conflict-affected population in Southern Sudan, and highlights the importance of addressing all these influences on overall health.