Objectives The aim of this intervention research study was to engage senior leaders of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in Malawi in a participatory process to construct an interfaith theology of HIV/AIDS. This process was designed to enhance the capacity of faith leaders to respond more effectively to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Methods An evidence-driven combination of ethnographic and participatory action research methodologies was utilised. Conceptual events—innovative participatory action research processes—were held over the 4-year project and brought together health service providers, policy makers and a non-governmental organisation in partnership with FBOs and grassroots faith-based communities.
Results Through facilitated dialogue, an interfaith theology of HIV/AIDS emerged, resulting in the proposition that a ‘spiritualised condom’ endorses a ‘theology of protecting life’. This proposition was based on the following convictions: (1) life is sacred and to be protected, (2) to kill or murder is a ‘greater sin’ than the ‘lesser sin of infidelity’, (3) protection of the innocent is a moral and religious requirement, (4) condoms have the potential to prevent the death of an innocent person and (5) condoms need to be encouraged, even in the context of marriage.
Conclusions Clinicians, non-governmental organisations, health service providers and policy makers, assisted by health social scientists, can successfully partner with FBOs and their leaders to (1) modify and transform faith-based understandings of HIV risk and (2) bring about attitudinal and behaviour changes that help to address the challenges associated with HIV/AIDS.
- communication skills
- health service research
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Funding Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) grant (No. HHP-53379), National AIDS Commission (NAC) grants (Ref. No. NAC/10/05/59 and NAC/FMA/C/0005) and the Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF). DGW was supported by McMaster University as a faculty member and a Career Scientist Award from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN – ROGC101), M-IA was supported by a CIHR grant (No. HHP-53379), and PM was supported by a CIHR grant (No. 53379).
Competing interests All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare that (1) this work was supported by a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) grant (No.HHP-53379), National AIDS Commission (NAC) grants (Ref. No. NAC/10/05/59 and NAC/FMA/C/0005) and the Salama SHIELD Foundation (which is a not-for-profit organisation, registered in Canada, Malawi and Uganda, that secures its funding primarily through individuals and corporate donors), that DGW was supported by McMaster University as a faculty member and a Career Scientist Award from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN—ROGC101), M-IA was supported by a CIHR grant (No. HHP-53379), and PM was supported by a CIHR grant (No. 53379) for the submitted work; (2) the authors have no relationships with companies that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; (3) their spouses, partners or children have no financial relationships that may be relevant to the submitted work and (4) the authors have no non-financial interests that may be relevant to the submitted work. The researchers worked independently from the funders and fulfilled all of the grant requirements for reporting to the CIHR and the NAC. SSF Malawi functioned as the implementing non-governmental organisation (NGO) partner in the research; because it is respected in Malawi, it had easier access to stakeholders and key communicators among faith-based organisations (FBOs) and faith-based communities than an academic team from McMaster University with no direct affiliation to either the University of Malawi or the FBO administrative bodies would have had.
Ethical approval Ethical approval provided by the McMaster University Research Ethics Board (REB File No. 2002 023), which ensured compliance with the Tri-Council Policy Statement and the McMaster University Policies and Guidelines for Research Involving Human Participants. Participants gave informed consent before taking part.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement Transcripts of the conceptual events are available upon request to researchers for review, interpretation and analysis.