Differences in Health and Illness Beliefs in Zimbabwean Men and Women with Diabetes

Esther Mufunda1, 2, Björn Albin1, Katarina Hjelm*, 1
1 School of Health and Caring Sciences, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
2 Department of Health Sciences, Zimbabwe Open University, Harare, Zimbabwe

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© Mufunda et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the School of Health and Caring Sciences, Linnaeus University, S- 351 95 Växjö, Sweden; Tel: +46 470 70 83 05; Fax: +46 470 363 10; E-mail:


This study explored beliefs about health and illness that might affect self-care and health-seeking behaviours in Zimbabwean men and women with diabetes. Gender differences were indicated in a previous study but their extent has not been studied. The present study used a qualitative descriptive design with semi-structured interviews to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomena. The sample consisted of 21 participants, 11 females aged 19-61 years (Median 44 years) and 10 males aged 22-65 years (Median 52 years). Qualitative content analysis was used. Health was described as freedom from diseases and enjoying well-being. Both males and females displayed limited knowledge about diabetes and dissimilarities in health-seeking behaviours. Women, in contrast to men, were more active in self-care and used various measures besides drugs as they related to a higher extent the cause of diabetes to supernatural factors like gods and witches. They sought information from self-help groups and help from outside the professional health sector like healers in the folk sector. Prolonged economic disruption also had negative effects towards maintenance of healthy life-styles as both men and women struggled to get money for food and drugs. Thus, the study highlighted that knowledge about diabetes and its management are important for self-care. There is therefore need to develop acceptable and affordable gender- sensitive diabetes care programmes that enhance patient participation, empowerment and promotion of health.

Keywords: Diabetes mellitus, gender, health/illness beliefs, health-seeking behaviour, self-care, Zimbabwe.