*Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome/psychology
Analysis of Variance
*Attitude to Health
Factor Analysis, Statistical
Surveys and Questionnaires
*Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
Africa South Of The Sahara
English Speaking Africa
Psychological and social investigations of tropical diseases can make a significant contribution to understanding and managing many illnesses. One-hundred and seventy-five Malawian university students rated peopled who suffered from AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis and the 'common cold', on 11 psycho-social dimensions related to illness. Analysis of variance and factor analysis was used to distinguish distinctive illness profiles reflecting perceptions of (people with) these illnesses. Results suggested that infirmity was associated with AIDS and that the seriousness of malaria was minimized. Within a context of many threats to health the importance of distinguishing between serious illnesses is emphasized for effective health promotion interventions.
It has been suggested that biotechnological attempts to control tropical illnesses such as malaria have failed as a result of inattention to subjective beliefs about illness. This study sought to develop distinctive profiles reflecting common perceptions of individuals with AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, and the common cold. 175 students at the University of Malawi completed a questionnaire in which they were asked to imagine someone who is ill with each of these 4 conditions and rate them on 11 psychosocial dimensions. AIDS was clearly differentiated from the 3 other illnesses in terms of its perceived incurability, gradual onset, and ease of transmission. People with AIDS were considered more to blame for their illness than those with the 3 other diseases and widely perceived as infirm. Although students felt that people with AIDS are like themselves, they expressed a sense of personal invulnerability to the disease. Malaria was characterized as the most debilitating of the 4 illnesses in terms of school or work performance, as producing the most ill-looking appearance, and the least contagious, but its seriousness was minimized. The common cold was perceived as the hardest illness to avoid and the least likely to result in death. Schistosomiasis was not distinguished from the other illnesses. These findings indicate a need for educational campaigns in Malawi focused on the fact that people with AIDS do not necessarily appear infirm and that malaria remains a major cause of death.