BACKGROUND: The high burden of chronic communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and an escalating rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Malawi and other sub-Saharan African countries, calls for a shift in how health care services are designed and delivered. Patient-centred care and patient self-management are critical elements in chronic care, and are advocated as universal strategies. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is need for more evidence around the practice of patient self-management, and how to best support patients with chronic conditions in the African context. Our study explored self-management practices of patients with different chronic conditions, and their strategies to overcome care challenges in a resource-constrained setting in Malawi.
METHODS: This is primarily a qualitative study, involving patients with different chronic conditions from one rural district in Malawi. Data are drawn from semi-structured questions of a survey with 129 patients (from the third of four-part data collection series), 14 in-depth interviews, and four focus-group discussions with patients (n = 31 respondents). A framework approach was used for qualitative analysis, and descriptive statistical analysis was performed on survey data.
RESULTS: Patients demonstrated ability to self-manage their conditions, though this varied between conditions, and was influenced by individual and external factors. Factors included: 1) ability to acquire appropriate disease knowledge; 2) poverty level; 3) the presence of support from family caregivers and community-based support initiatives; 4) the nature of one's social relations; and 5) the ability to deal with stressors and stigma. NCD and HIV comorbid patients were more disadvantaged in their access to care, as they experienced frequent drug stock-outs and incurred additional costs when referred. These barriers contributed to delayed care, poorer treatment adherence, and likelihood of poorer treatment outcomes. Patients proved resourceful and made adjustments in the face of (multiple) care challenges.
CONCLUSION: Our findings complement other research on self-management experiences in chronically ill patients with its analysis on factors and barriers that influence patient self-management capacity in a resource-constrained setting. We recommend expanding current peer-patient and support group initiatives to patients with NCDs, and further investments in the decentralisation of integrated health services to primary care level in Malawi.