Grandmothers as gems of genetic wisdom: exploring South African traditional beliefs about the causes of childhood genetic disorders

J Genet Couns. 2010 Feb;19(1):9-21. doi: 10.1007/s10897-009-9252-x. Epub 2009 Sep 25.


With its diverse cultural and linguistic profile, South Africa provides a unique context to explore contextual influences on the process of genetic counseling. Prior research suggests intergenerational differences regarding models of causation which influence treatment-seeking paths. This pilot study therefore aimed to explore South African traditional beliefs regarding common childhood genetic disorders. Three focus groups were conducted with fifteen grandmothers from different cultural backgrounds in an urban community. Questions pertained to the role of the grandmother, traditional beliefs regarding causes of genetic disorders, explanations of heredity, and prevention and management of genetic disorders. Results indicate a variety of cultural explanations for causes of childhood genetic disorders. These causes can be classified into categories related to lifestyle, behavior, social issues, culture, religion, genetic, and familial causes. Prevention and treatment issues are also highlighted. These findings have implications for genetic counseling practice, which needs to include a greater focus on cultural issues.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Awareness*
  • Caregivers
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn* / prevention & control
  • Genetics*
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Life Style
  • Role
  • South Africa