Illness experiences of diabetes in the context of malaria in settings experiencing double burden of disease in Southeastern Tanzania

Emmy Metta, Ajay Bailey, Flora Kessy, Eveline Geubbels, Hinke Haisma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Tanzania is doubly burdened with both non-communicable and infectious diseases, but information on how Tanzanians experience the co-existence of these conditions is limited. Using Kleinman's eight prompting questions the study synthesizes explanatory models from patients to describe common illness experiences of diabetes in a rural setting where malaria is the predominant health threat. Methods: We conducted 17 focus group discussions with adult members of the general community, diabetes patients, neighbours and relatives of diabetes patients to gain insight into shared experiences. To gain in-depth understanding of the individual illness experiences, we conducted 41 in-depth interviews with malaria or diabetes patients and family members of diabetes patients. The analysis followed grounded theory principles and the illness experiences were derived from the emerging themes. Results: The illness experiences showed that malaria and diabetes are both perceived to be severe and fatal conditions, but over the years people have learned to live with malaria and the condition is relatively manageable compared with diabetes. In contrast, diabetes was perceived as a relatively new disease, with serious life-long consequences. Uncertainty, fear of those consequences, and the increased risk for severe malaria and other illnesses impacted diabetes patients and their families' illness experiences. Unpredictable ailments and loss of consciousness, memory, libido, and functional incapability were common problems reported by diabetes patients. These problems had an effect on their psychological and emotional health and limited their social life. Direct and indirect costs of illness pushed individuals and their families further into poverty and were more pronounced for diabetes patients. Conclusion: The illness experiences revealed both malaria and diabetes as distressing conditions, however, diabetes showed a higher level of stress because of its chronicity. Strategies for supporting social, emotional, and psychological well-being that build on the patient accounts are likely to improve illness experiences and quality of life for the chronically ill patient.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0178394
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 01-05-2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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