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Perceptions of Risk and Strategies for Prevention: Responses to HIV/AIDS in Rural Malawi

  • Kirsten P. Smith

    ()

    (Population Studies Center, University of Philadelphia)

  • Susan Cotts Watkins

    (Population Studies Center, University of Philadelphia)

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    This paper combines quantitative and qualitative data to investigate changes in perceived risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in rural Malawi. Using longitudinal survey data, we find that Malawians worried less about contracting HIV/AIDS in 2001 than in 1998. According to qualitative interviews and observational journal accounts, HIV/AIDS and strategies to prevent it are a frequent topic of conversation amongst married Malawians. Women report worrying most about their husbands as a possible source of infection, discussing with them the importance of avoiding infection, and, increasingly, using divorce to reduce their risk. Men report worrying most about their extramarital partners and adopting preventive strategies such as fewer partners and more careful partner selection. We show that the decline in perceived risk is significantly associated with declines in the behaviors that Malawians worry most about and perceptions of risk in individuals’ social networks. We interpret these findings as evidence that Malawians are changing their behavior in ways that may reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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    Paper provided by Program on the Global Demography of Aging in its series PGDA Working Papers with number 0305.

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    Date of creation: 2005
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    Handle: RePEc:gdm:wpaper:0305
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/pgda

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    1. Gregson, Simon & Zhuwau, Tom & Anderson, Roy M. & Chandiwana, Stephen K., 1998. "Is there evidence for behaviour change in response to AIDS in rural Zimbabwe?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 321-330, February.
    2. Hans-Peter Kohler & Jere R. Behrman & Susan Cotts Watkins, 1999. "The structure of social networks and fertility decisions: evidence from S. Nyanza District, Kenya," MPIDR Working Papers WP-1999-005, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    3. John C. Caldwell, 2000. "Rethinking the African AIDS Epidemic," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 26(1), pages 117-135.
    4. FFF1Georges NNN1Reniers, 2003. "Divorce and Remarriage in Rural Malawi," Demographic Research Special Collections, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 1(6), pages 175-206, September.
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