Postnatal care utilization and local understandings of contagion among HIV-infected and uninfected women in rural, southern Zambia

Emma Sacks, William J. Moss, Peter J. Winch, Philip E Thuma, Janneke H. van Dijk, Luke C. Mullany

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Postnatal care is essential for ensuring the optimal health of newborns and necessary for the prevention of maternal-to-child human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission as well as the early diagnosis and treatment of HIV-infected infants. However, coverage of postnatal care is low in many rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. We examined women’s experiences of accessing formal postnatal care for their HIV-exposed newborns, comparing reports of HIV-infected and uninfected women in an HIV-endemic area of rural southern Zambia. We conducted 24 qualitative in-depth interviews with recently delivered women in a rural region of southern Zambia, including 8 with women who were willing to disclose their HIV infection status and answer additional questions. Data were transcribed, coded and analyzed using thematic analysis techniques. HIV-infected women identified more disincentives and reported more negative experiences accessing postnatal care than HIV-uninfected women. A local notion of contagion holds that healthy infants may become sick with chibele, a fatal, febrile illness, if exposed to another infant who is taking “strong medicine”, such as antiretroviral drugs. Thus, HIV-uninfected women expressed objections to sharing clinics with women and infants who were presumed to be under treatment. Additionally, women reported receiving better treatment from staff at HIV clinics compared to general pediatric clinics. Due to these tensions, HIV-infected women were less likely to visit a clinic for newborn care if the clinic or waiting area was a common space used by HIV-uninfected women and their children. When integrating programs for HIV with maternal and child health care, these nuanced tensions between groups of patients must be recognized and resolved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1052-1057
Number of pages6
JournalAIDS Care - Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 6 2016


  • Africa
  • Contagion
  • HIV
  • Neonatal health
  • Postnatal care
  • Stigma
  • Zambia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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