Can interfaith research partnerships develop new paradigms for condom use and HIV prevention? The implementation of conceptual events in Malawi results in a ‘spiritualised condom’

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Abstract

Objectives

The aim of this intervention research study was to engage senior leaders of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in Malawi in a participatory process to construct an interfaith theology of HIV/AIDS. This process was designed to enhance the capacity of faith leaders to respond more effectively to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Methods

An evidence-driven combination of ethnographic and participatory action research methodologies was utilised. Conceptual events—innovative participatory action research processes—were held over the 4-year project and brought together health service providers, policy makers and a non-governmental organisation in partnership with FBOs and grassroots faith-based communities.

Results

Through facilitated dialogue, an interfaith theology of HIV/AIDS emerged, resulting in the proposition that a ‘spiritualised condom’ endorses a ‘theology of protecting life’. This proposition was based on the following convictions: (1) life is sacred and to be protected, (2) to kill or murder is a ‘greater sin’ than the ‘lesser sin of infidelity’, (3) protection of the innocent is a moral and religious requirement, (4) condoms have the potential to prevent the death of an innocent person and (5) condoms need to be encouraged, even in the context of marriage.

Conclusions

Clinicians, non-governmental organisations, health service providers and policy makers, assisted by health social scientists, can successfully partner with FBOs and their leaders to (1) modify and transform faith-based understandings of HIV risk and (2) bring about attitudinal and behaviour changes that help to address the challenges associated with HIV/AIDS.

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