Illness Narrative

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 529-547

First online:

Treatment Seeking, Vaginal Discharge and Psychosocial Distress Among Women in Urban Mumbai

  • Kristin M. KostickAffiliated withUniversity of Connecticut School of Medicine Email author 
  • , Stephen L. SchensulAffiliated withUniversity of Connecticut School of Medicine
  • , Kalpita JadhavAffiliated withTopiwala National Medical College
  • , Rajendra SinghAffiliated withInternational Center for Research on Women
  • , Amruta BavadekarAffiliated withInternational Center for Research on Women
  • , Niranjan SaggurtiAffiliated withThe Population Council

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Vaginal discharge (safed pani in Hindi, meaning “white water”) is one of the leading symptoms for which women in India seek care. Treatment-seeking for safed pani is disproportionately high among poor women, representing a physical, emotional and financial burden for low-income families. Safed pani is only rarely indicative of a reproductive tract or sexually transmitted infection. The discrepancy between symptom reports and observed pathology has led some researchers to characterize safed pani as a culturally based expression of more generalized negative life situation. Data are drawn from two prevention intervention studies (2002–2006 and 2007–2012) conducted in economically marginal communities in Mumbai. Results show that husbands as problem generators and spousal abusers and women’s greater perceived empowerment and reported tension are significantly associated with safed pani. These results provide the basis for identifying women at greater risk for psychosocial distress and providing supports at the locations at which they seek treatment.


India Vaginal discharge Culturally based illness Psychosocial health