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Ethn Health. 2015;20(4):391-408. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2014.921896. Epub 2014 Jul 22.

Explanatory models of diabetes in urban poor communities in Accra, Ghana.

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a Regional Institute for Population Studies , University of Ghana , Accra , Ghana.



The objective of the study was to examine explanatory models of diabetes and diabetes complications among urban poor Ghanaians living with diabetes and implications for developing secondary prevention strategies.


Twenty adults with type 2 diabetes were recruited from three poor communities in Accra. Qualitative data were obtained using interviews that run between 40 and 90 minutes. The interviews were audio-taped, transcribed and analysed thematically, informed by the 'explanatory model of disease' concept.


Respondents associated diabetes and its complications with diet, family history, lifestyle factors (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity), psychological stress and supernatural factors (witchcraft and sorcery). These associations were informed by biomedical and cultural models of diabetes and disease. Subjective experience, through a process of 'body-listening,' constituted a third model on which respondents drew to theorise diabetes complications. Poverty was an important mediator of poor self-care practices, including treatment non-adherence.


The biomedical model of diabetes was a major source of legitimate information for self-care practices. However, this was understood and applied through a complex framework of cultural theories of chronic disease, the biopsychological impact of everyday illness experience and the disempowering effects of poverty. An integrated biopsychosocial approach is proposed for diabetes intervention in this research community.


Ghana; body-self; culture; diabetes; explanatory models; urban poor

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