HIV/AIDs is a well-known global disease that effects people from all over the world, but Sub-Saharan Africa contains the largest population of infected people. The Sub-Saharan is home to 71% of the worldwide population of people living with HIV/AIDs, that’s 24.7 million out of the 35 million affected worldwide (kff.org). Malawi is a small Sub-Saharan country with a population of about 16.8 million, in which 10.8% of the population is infected with HIV/AIDs. The most significant contributing factors to the spread of this disease are the lack of preventative education and the social acceptance of extramarital relationships. In Malawi culture, masculinity and economic status are measured by sexual activeness and skill which encourages men to have many sexual partners at one time. Often people in these sexual relationships do not use protective measures, such as condoms, because they do not know or understand how HIV is transmitted, and because they haven’t been taught about prevention.
The first reported case of HIV/AIDs in Malawi appeared in 1985 (Government of Malawi), to which the government responded with some small scale prevention tactics and created the National AIDs Control Programme. However these interventions were highly unsuccessful because the president at the time, Hastings Banda, did not allow mass distribution of the preventative information because he believed that topics including sexual activity and HIV transmission “should not be addressed in the public sphere” (Kalipeni). During this taboo the amount of HIV/AIDs cases escalated rapidly. Over the years a series of other commissions and plans were put in place to try and combat the epidemic, but few proved successful. Since the early 2000s international organizations such as UNICEF and the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Malaria, and Tuberculosis have donated substantial amounts of money and resources to help the government create more successful interventions and make anti-retroviral drugs available to the Malawi peoples.
Dr. Julia Cordero Coma studies the social behaviors of Malawi people that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDs. In her article “When the group encourages Extramarital sex: Difficulties in HIV/AIDS prevention in rural Malawi” (http://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol28/30/28-30.pdf#search=%22hiv%20in%20malawi%22) she studies the Malawi culture and uses a survey from the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project done in 2004 and 2006 to evaluate how extramarital relationships increase the prevalence of HIV/AIDs. Julia’s research shows that while the Malawi people in general believe in marital fidelity, the amount of males that do have multiple sexual partners in marriage is so significant that it has become an accepted norm. It was shown that the men are more likely to contract HIV first and then spread it to a healthy female, since the men have more partners and are less likely to use protection. The greatest factor to infidelity is the men’s social network. If a man has a large number of friends that are unfaithful, he is much more likely to have extramarital relationships than someone who has few unfaithful friends. Because of the amount of sexual partners the Malawi people have, the treatment and prevention of the disease are much more difficult than that of a culture that practices true monogamy. With this information, convincing the Malawi people that extramarital relationships are not normal and looked down upon and that monogamy is the norm could help to combat the HIV/AIDs epidemic.
Cordero Coma, Julia. “When the group encourages extramarital sex: Difficulties in HIV/AIDS prevention in rural Malawi”. Demographic Research 28 (April 2013): 849-880
Government of Malawi. GLOBAL AIDS RESPONSE PROGRESS REPORT: Malawi Country Report for 2010 and 2011. (2012)
Kalipeni, Ezekiel; Jayati Ghosh. “Concern and practice among men about HIV/AIDS in low socioeconomic income areas of Lilongwe, Malawi”. Social Science & Medicine 64 (2007): 1116–1127.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “The Global HIV/AIDs Epidemic”. Last Modified 8/5/2014. http://kff.org/global-health-policy/fact-sheet/the-global-hivaids-epidemic/