A Qualitative Research Study Report

Publication Date
June 1, 2003



“This qualitative research study was commissioned to explore Malawian cultural practices that promote positive living, on the one hand, and those that hinder positive living among people with HIV/AIDS on the other. Depending on the stakeholders comments on this write-up, the results of this research will be used to inform a chapter on “Cultural Practices and Positive living among people with HIV/AIDS” in a booklet entitled “Living Positively with HIV and AIDS” under the Pakachere Media Communication Project in Malawi.

Pakachere is a multi media programme adapted from Soul City of South Africa. One of the media that Pakachere Media Communication Project will adapt from the Soul City media is print. This will initially be in the form of a booklet titled Living Positively with HIV/AIDS. This booklet was selected at a stakeholder’s workshop on June 12, 2002. The workshop among other things recommended the inclusion in the booklet of a chapter on “Cultural Practices and HIV/AIDS”. Against this background a desk research was commissioned to source information that will inform the Cultural Practices chapter. The desk research was aimed at exploring Malawian cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS and those that have a bearing on positive living among people with HIV/AIDS. To achieve this objective, the following specific objectives were pursued:

  • Explore cultural practices that promote and demote positive living among people with HIV/AIDS.
  • Explore common cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Find out from relevant Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) the legitimate and realistic resolutions on the cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS and those that hamper positive living among people with HIV/AIDS.
  • Source the relevant CSOs’ views on what type of messages and illustrations
    they would like to be included in Malawi version of Living Positively with HIV and AIDS booklet.

The results of the desk research indicated that most efforts on Cultural Practices and HIV/AIDS in Malawi have leaned more towards those cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS than those that promote positive living among people with HIV/AIDS. We had two hypotheses to explain this:

ul type="square">

There is little or no cultural practice that promotes positive living among people with HIV/AIDS. Most studies dwelled on practices that promote HIV/AIDS because for the past two decades, the approach that Malawi has taken in the fight against HIV/AIDS was to prevent the spread of the Disease.

As such, efforts were made to explore all ways through which the disease can be spread, and find ways to curb the problem. Of late, however, the fight has taken a new twist whereby Malawi is accepting the fact that the problem is here with us and the question that still remains is that how are we going to deal with it? As such there are efforts aimed at helping those who are living with HIV/AIDS to live positively e.g. the current National AIDS Commission (NAC) theme is “Stigma and Discrimination”. More effort has to be put therefore to explore Malawian practices that can help those who are already HIV positive or suffering from AIDS to live positively.

The CSO officials we interviewed also indicated that Malawian proverbs could help foster positive living among people with HIV/AIDS as they are used almost on daily basis by Malawians to guide their behaviour. Proverbs have therefore turned out to be part of Malawian culture. To this end, we proposed that we design an audience formative research to explore those cultural practices that can promote, on one hand, and hinder, on the other, positive living among people with HIV/AIDS It is against this background that this Audience Research Study was commissioned.

The major goal of the research was to incorporate the effects (positive or negative) of some cultural practices on living positively with HIV/AIDS and the spread of HIV in Living Positively with HIV/AIDS booklet with the aim of removing cultural barriers and exploiting cultural opportunities to positive living among people with HIV/AIDS.

The findings from the desk research showed that most field research exercises by other organisations were conducted among village gatekeepers. It also revealed that there is little information on cultural practices that promote positive living among people with HIV/AIDS. This research exercise was therefore treading on some kind of a new ground. As such, in such cultural issues, we deemed it necessary to adopt two approaches, viz, key informant and audience research. In the key informant approach, we interviewed chiefs (village headmen) as custodians of Malawian culture. In the audience research, we conducted Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) to source information on the cultural practices and how people feel about them. The break characteristic used was tribal grouping. Using convenience sampling, we sampled five major tribes spread across the country namely, Chewa, Yao, Tumbuka, Sena and Lomwe. Correspondingly, the research team visited Dowa, Machinga, Mzimba, Chikwawa and Thyolo districts. In each district, we selected one village on an ad hoc basis where two FGDs, male and female, were conducted. We accommodated the gender break characteristic on two grounds.

The first one was that most cultural practices involve some sensitive gender specific issues which both sexes might not be comfortable to discuss in a mixed group. The second reason was that in Malawian culture, most women take a secondary role and we felt they might not express themselves better in a mixed group, more especially when discussing cultural issues.

The ten FGDs conducted in the selected villages also catered for the rural setting. As for the urban setting, we conducted two FGDs in Blantyre City. Thus 12 FGDs were conducted to satisfy our criteria. In the key informant approach, we interviewed village headmen from each village we visited. Thus, six semi-structured interviews were conducted in the study.

All the interviews and discussions were guided by an interview schedule. They were conducted in the local languages of Chichewa (in Southern and Central Regions), and Tumbuka in Northern Region. They were recorded electronically. After the fieldwork, they were translated in English and verbatim transcriptions were done, ready for analysis. A thematic analysis of the verbatim transcriptions was done before writing this report.”


PSI/ Malawi website on February 17 2005.