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"Half plate of rice to a male casual sexual partner, full plate belongs to the husband": Findings from a qualitative study on sexual behaviour in relation to HIV and AIDS in northern Tanzania

Joseph R Mwanga*, Gerry Mshana, Godfrey Kaatano and John Changalucha

Author Affiliations

National Institute for Medical Research, P.O. Box 1462, Mwanza, Tanzania

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:957  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-957

Published: 28 December 2011



A thorough understanding of the contexts of sexual behaviour of the people who are vulnerable to HIV infection is an important component in the battle against AIDS epidemic. We conducted a qualitative study to investigate perceptions, attitudes and practices of sexually active people in three districts of northern Tanzania with the view of collecting data to inform the formulation of appropriate complementary interventions against HIV and AIDS in the study communities.


We conducted 96 semi-structured interviews and 48 focus group discussions with sexually active participants (18-60 years of age) who were selected purposively in two fishing and one non-fishing communities.


The study revealed a number of socio-economic and cultural factors which act as structural drivers of HIV epidemic. Mobility and migration were mentioned to be associated with the risk of HIV acquisition and transmission. Sexual promiscuous behaviour was common in all study communities. Chomolea, (a quick transactional sex) was reported to exist in fishing communities, whereas extramarital sex in the bush was reported in non-fishing community which was predominantly Christian and polygamous. Traditional practices such as Kusomboka (death cleansing through unprotected sex) was reported to exist. Other risky sexual behaviour and traditional practices together with their socio-economic and cultural contexts are presented in details and discussed. Knowledge of condom was low as some people mistook them for balloons to play with and as decorations for their living rooms. Acute scarcity of condoms in some remote areas such as vizingani (fishing islands) push some people to make their own condoms locally known as kondomu za pepsi using polythene bags.


HIV prevention efforts can succeed by addressing sexual behaviour and its socio-economic and cultural contexts. More innovative, interdisciplinary and productive structural approaches to HIV prevention need to be developed in close collaboration with affected communities and be closely related to policy-making and implementation; to go beyond the limited success of traditional behavioural and biomedical interventions to particularly address the underlying social and structural drivers of HIV risk and vulnerability in the study communities.

Sexual behaviour; Socio-economic and cultural contexts; Structural drivers of HIV epidemic; AIDS; Tanzania