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Zimbabwean cultural traditions in England: Ubuntu–Hunhu as a human rights tool

This paper is based on the argument that inside evolving African cultures, there are resources that could be useful human rights and ethical tools. These cultural resources can be harnessed in conducting research on sensitive topics such as HIV or used to deliver health promotion interventions. A key cultural resource, based on evolving Zimbabwean cultural traditions, is the notion of Ubuntu–Hunhu, which is grounded in respect, humanity and the interconnectedness of beings. This concept can be a useful resource in upholding confidentiality, a centralrequirement in research ethics and the deliverance of health promotion interventions. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore the meaning of Ubuntu–Hunhu, and the applicability of this concept in helping those with HIV. Thirty HIV-positive Zimbabwean men and women living in London and the surrounding area were interviewed and then invited to take part in focus groups to discuss their experiences as migrants to the UK. All data were transcribed and a grounded theory approach was used to identify three themes: the meanings of Ubuntu–Hunhu, Ubuntu–Hunhu as a basis for privacy, and Ubuntu–Hunhu in clinical settings. Although all the respondents reported that they were aware of the concept of Ubuntu–Hunhu, not all were aware of the meanings of confidentiality as used by Western health and social care providers. Our study shows that the use of Ubuntu–Hunhu concepts that link the entitlements of individuals with communal responsibilities and duties provides an important ethical tool for clarifying what research participants understand confidentiality to be. Using the Ubuntu–Hunhu framework, confidentiality in HIV emerged as crucially important, not only for the individual but also for those connected to the person living with HIV, including sexual partners. This has important implications for public health.

Author(s): Martha Chinouya, Eileen O’Keefe

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