Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

"Indigenous African Rituals and Child-Feeding": Critical Reflections on the Shona Cultural Practices in the Context of HIV and AIDS, Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies

"Indigenous African Rituals and Child-Feeding": Critical Reflections on the Shona Cultural Practices in the Context of HIV and AIDS, Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Abstract

Next to the severity of the scourge of civil wars, HIV and AIDS is an epidemic that has caused existential despondency for humanity in the sub Saharan African region. Whereas the HIV infection among adults is principally accounted for by heterosexual intercourse, virtually all infections in infants are due to mother-to-children transmission (MTCT) largely through breast-feeding. A study of this nature is essential and desirable because child feeding and breast feeding in particular has become a source of anxiety and psychological distress among HIV positive mothers. Cultural beliefs and indigenous practices are still influencing what constitutes appropriate child feeding even when they are contradictory to the recommended modern child feeding practices in the contemporary era of HIV and AIDS epidemic. The paper observed that breast-feeding is a complex process governed by psychological and physiological factors which in turn, are conditioned by a wide spectrum of socio-economic and cultural circumstances. The study reflected on the indigenous cultural practices among the Shona people in southeastern Zimbabwe which could be used to compliment modern public health education in the advocacy towards reducing the transmission of HIV virus from mothers to children and thereby improving their maternal well-being. In the context of the HIV and AIDS, the study established that a child born to an HIV-infected and affected mother is stigmatised to the extent that the child is labelled as totem-less and thereby disrupts the legitimacy to survive well both in the family and society as a whole.

Keywords: breast-feeding, child-feeding, culture, HIV and AIDS, ritual, Shona, Zimbabwe

INTRODUCTION

HIV and AIDS as a relatively new disease, has caused unspeakable distress to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa more than anywhere else in the world (Kalipeni and Zulu, 2008). The reality behind this epidemic, thirty years after it was medically discovered, is that its impact is visibly seen in almost all age segments of the population and in all spheres of human life (Dube, 2003). Although most HIV infections among adults in sub-Saharan Africa are attributed to heterosexual intercourse, virtually all infections among children are due to mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). As Ritcher and Griesel (1998) have pointed out, more than 90% of HIV-1 infection in children occurs by vertical transmission. Moreover, infant feeding is one of the most critical interfaces between HIV and child survival (World Health Organisation, 2010).

It must be noted that the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child especially through breast-feeding is a source of major anxiety and distress among breastfeeding mothers living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. This is because breast-feeding is a complex process governed by psychological and physiological factors, which in turn are conditioned by a wide spectrum of environmental, socio-economic and cultural circumstances (Obermeyer and Castle, 1997 as cited in Shirima, Gebre-Medhin and Greiner, 2001). The challenges emanate from conflicting information between the contemporary public health education and the traditional child-feeding practices as well as high levels of poverty in sub Saharan Africa. On one hand, health-care providers frequently phrased questions about infant feeding in ways that inhibited mothers from revealing their customary daily practices. Accordingly, breastfeeding mothers are likely to be stigmatised for not breastfeeding because, in contexts of high HIV infection rates, formula feeding may become a social marker for infection (Ritcher and Griesel, 1998).

In the traditional African context, cultural child-feeding practices might pose both challenges and opportunities for improving some contemporary recommended feeding practices in the context of HIV and AIDS. This article proceeds from the premise that the understanding of cultural practices which had long been informing nursing mothers might help to reduce the transmission of the HIV virus from mother-to-child as well as improving the maternal well-being. …

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