HIV/AIDS Reduces the Relevance of the Principle of Individual Medical Confidentiality Among the Bantu People of Southern Africa

Theor Med Bioeth. 2008;29(5):331-40. doi: 10.1007/s11017-008-9084-y.


The principle of individual medical confidentiality is one of the moral principles that Africa inherited unquestioningly from the West as part of Western medicine. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa has reduced the relevance of the principle of individual medical confidentiality. Individual medical confidentiality has especially presented challenges for practitioners among the Bantu communities that are well known for their social inter-connectedness and the way they value their extended family relations. Individual confidentiality has raised several unforeseen problems for persons living with HIV/AIDS, ranging from stigma and isolation to feelings of dejection as it drives them away from their families as a way of trying to keep information about their conditions confidential. The involvement of family members in treatment decisions is in line with the philosophy of Ubuntu and serves to respect patients' and families' autonomy while at the same time benefiting the individual patient.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / transmission
  • Africa, Southern
  • Confidentiality*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Duty to Warn*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Patient Rights
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Social Isolation
  • Stereotyping
  • Truth Disclosure