Indigenous beliefs and attitudes to AIDS precautions in a rural South African community: an empirical study

Ann Behav Med. 2006 Dec;32(3):218-25. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm3203_7.


Background: It was recently hypothesized that indigenous belief systems might have a bearing on attitudes toward HIV/AIDS prevention in Southern Africa.

Purpose: This article comprises the first empirical test of the hypothesis.

Methods: Participants (n = 407) lived in a remote rural area of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, and were divided into younger (18-24 years) and older (35-45 years) cohorts. All participants completed a questionnaire measuring Attitudes to AIDS Precautions, indigenous knowledge, indigenous beliefs about ancestral protection, and indigenous beliefs about illness.

Results: Indigenous beliefs pertaining to health behavior emerged as multidimensional in both structure and effect. Among older participants, there were significant associations between indigenous belief measures and Attitudes to AIDS Precautions. In this group, a strong belief in ancestral protection was associated with more negative Attitudes to AIDS Precautions, whereas a strong belief in traditional explanations for illness was associated with more positive Attitudes to AIDS Precautions. The indigenous beliefs measures were not associated with Attitudes to AIDS Precautions among younger participants.

Conclusions: The data lend modest support to the hypothesis that indigenous beliefs have a measurable association with attitudes to AIDS prevention, although these associations may be diminishing across generations. Further research, exploring a wider range of indigenous beliefs and focusing on actual precautionary behaviors rather than attitudes, seems merited.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / psychology
  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Africa South of the Sahara / ethnology
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Empirical Research
  • Humans
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Population Groups
  • Rural Population