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