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Ethn Health. 2011 Apr;16(2):89-106. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2010.539196.

Muslim women's reflections on the acceptability of vaginal microbicidal products to prevent HIV infection.

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  • 1Department of Religious Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.


This paper examines South African Muslim women's opinions of the acceptability of microbicidal products to prevent HIV infection if these were to become available in the future. In the context of the HIV pandemic, prophylactic methods such as male circumcision, vaccines and microbicidal preparations are increasingly thought of as ways to reduce the incidence of infection. We examine the extent to which participants' religious beliefs and the implications of religious norms and ideals might influence decision-making concerning hypothetical acceptability to use a microbicide. We conducted qualitative interviews with 29 Muslim women residing in South Africa, a country with one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Four themes emerged from the data, namely, (1) participants' questioning of the need for microbicides; (2) reasons they gave in favour of microbicide use; (3) the juxtaposition of microbicide use and religious ethics; and (4) the role of religious authorities in decision-making regarding microbicide use. The juxtaposition of microbicide use and religious ethics was further informed by three sub-themes, namely, the life-promoting nature of both Islam and microbicide use, the possibility that microbicide use could encourage sexual risk-taking among male partners, and that the use of these products contradicted womens' notions of ethical agency and ideals about marriage. These themes and sub-themes are analysed in the context of gender relations among South African Muslims. The study findings are significant in light of recent data showing the effectiveness of a microbicidal preparation in reducing the risk of HIV infection in South Africa. We also show that the acceptability of microbicidal products is to a certain extent linked to a variety of religious persuasions and ideals. When microbicides become available in the future, proponents of their use will need to consider religious reasoning of potential users, including that of Muslim women.

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