Reproductive decision making and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe

M. Grieser, J. Gittelsohn, A. V. Shankar, T. Koppenhaver, T. K. Legrand, R. Marindo, W. M. Mavhu, K. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The fertility-stimulating effect of high rates of child mortality on reproductive decision making (RDM) is a central tenet of population studies, yet the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on RDM have not been thoroughly explored in the literature. This paper investigates how RDM is articulated in the context of high HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zimbabwe. Using qualitative methods (35 focus groups and 46 in-depth interviews), we found that childbearing is extremely important in the lives of adult Zimbabweans and that children are needed to cement the couple's relationship, whether it is the first or subsequent marriage. Most respondents said that rates of both adult and child mortality were greatly increasing due to the AIDS epidemic. However, contrary to expectations based upon the insurance strategy, most respondents said that they would have fewer children as a result of the perceived increase in child mortality. They were also hesitant to continue childbearing after a child death, indicating only weak replacement motivation. Instead, many respondents expressed the desire to limit family size due to concerns about their own mortality and its negative effects on their children. Furthermore, new reproductive strategies seem to be emerging, which focus upon the health of parents and child and are based upon perceptions of 100 per cent maternal-infant HIV transmission. Adult HIV status is linked to child survival as respondents explained that having a healthy child who survives to age five indicates that the parents are also free of the virus and, at this point, they can safely continue childbearing. Additionally, couples who have experienced the death of a child are hesitant to give birth again because they believe future children would die. Finally, there was some talk of having children early in an attempt to avoid contracting HIV. This study presents evidence that Zimbabweans are altering their reproductive strategies in order to protect both parents and children from the threat of AIDS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-243
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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