Research Articles

In search of a face: Childbearing decisions among couples living with HIV from rural southern Malawi

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 13, issue 1, 2014, pages: 21–29
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2014.886603
Author(s): Belinda C GombachikaUniversity of Oslo, Norway, Heidi FjeldUniversity of Oslo, Norway

Abstract

In the context of increasing access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), the issue of childbearing among people living with HIV is important. The little that is known originates from either studies conducted before widespread availability of highly active ART or has focused on women's or men's reproductive behaviours and experiences. This paper therefore explores factors that influence childbearing decisions of married couples living with HIV in patrilineal and matrilineal kinship communities in rural Malawi. Qualitative exploratory research was conducted in two rural districts in the southern part of Malawi. Data were collected using in-depth interviews from 20 couples purposively sampled in matrilineal (Chiradzulu) and patrilineal (Chikhwawa) communities from July to December 2010 and was analysed using the content analysis method. The research findings show that couples living with HIV continue having children despite knowledge of the risk associated with childbearing and resistance from others in the community. Furthermore, the findings suggest that men are driven to have children by the need to cement relationships (patrilineal and matrilineal communities) and to secure position (matrilineal communities) while women do not want to have children because they are afraid of the risks and a heavier childcare burden. Finally, the findings suggest that outcomes of the decisions are dominated by husbands’ desires in both communities. This paper therefore extends the discourse on the value of childbearing beyond the question of adulthood expressed in varying ways according to gender and kinship organisation. We therefore recommend that intervention strategies for both reproductive health and HIV and AIDS must focus on husbands and be sensitive to local culture. The antiretroviral clinics must integrate family planning services in their routine activities and condom use must be complemented with other effective family planning methods to prevent future pregnancies.

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