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A black dog enters the home: hunger and malnutrition in Malawi
  1. Anne Dressel1,
  2. Elizabeth Mkandawire2,
  3. Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu1,
  4. Elizabeth Dyke3,
  5. Clement Bisai4,
  6. Hazel Kantayeni4,
  7. Peninnah Kako1,
  8. Brittany Ochoa-Nordstrum5
  1. 1College of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  2. 2African Research University Alliance (ARUA) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  3. 3Health and Social Development, Consultant, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada
  4. 4CARE International in Malawi, Lilongwe, Malawi
  5. 5Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Anne Dressel, College of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA; banda{at}uwm.edu

Abstract

Hunger and inadequate nutrition are ongoing concerns in rural Malawi and are exemplified in traditional proverbs. Traditional proverbs and common expressions offer insight into commonly held truths across societies throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Strong oral traditions allow community beliefs embodied in proverbs to be passed down from generation to generation. In our qualitative study, we conducted 8 individual and 12 focus group interviews with a total of 83 participants across two districts in rural central Malawi with the aim of soliciting context-specific details on men and women’s knowledge, attitudes and practices related to nutrition, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Each interview began by asking participants to share common proverbs related to nutrition. Our qualitative analysis, informed by an indigenous-based theoretical framework that recognises and centres African indigenous knowledge production, yielded six themes: ‘a black dog enters the home’, ‘don’t stay with your hands hanging’, ‘a man is at the stomach’, ‘showers have fallen’, ‘we lack peace in our hearts’ and ‘the hunger season’. Traditional proverbs can provide insight into the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition. Physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals around the world have a role to play in addressing hunger and malnutrition, which have been exacerbated by climate change. We have an ethical duty to educate ourselves and others, and change our behaviours, to mitigate the root causes of climate change, which are contributing to food insecurity and resultant poor health outcomes in countries like Malawi.

  • anthropology
  • medical humanities
  • nutrition and metabolism
  • public health

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Footnotes

  • Contributors AD led the data analysis and drafted the manuscript; EM contributed to data analysis, writing and editing; LM-V collected the data and contributed to data analysis, writing and editing; ED conceived and designed the study, and contributed to data analysis and editing; CB and HK oversaw data collection, and contributed to data analysis, writing and editing; PK contributed to data analysis, writing and editing; BO-N contributed to editing and formatting the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was funded through CARE’s Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI), a project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

  • Competing interests ED and LM-V received personal fees from CARE Canada for study design and data collection.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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