Building capacity to use arts-based methods for non-communicable disease prevention in Malawi and Tanzania

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a growing public health issue in Malawi and Tanzania. Recently with residents in Malawi, we explored the possibilities of a new community arts-based methodology to develop the local understandings of NCDs essential for effective intervention. Based on the partnerships and pilots of this study, this workshop aimed to solidify and share new arts-based methods for public health research.

Extended Summary

Malawi and Tanzania, like other Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, are experiencing an epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).1 This rising prevalence threatens the scarce health/social care resources of these countries,2 and appropriate NCD prevention strategies are urgently needed. The development of such strategies requires careful understandings of the local drivers of NCDs, which are complex and influenced by multiple biomedical and sociocultural factors.

One way to enhance encounters between biomedicine and local sociocultural norms is by using local arts practices.3 Local arts have been used in HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention in SSA, but existing literature indicates a lack of methods to overcome the epistemological wall of biomedical data in relation to sociocultural and affective data.4,5  Thus, the potential for using arts-based enquiry for NCD prevention remains largely untapped.

As part of an MRC/AHRC-funded GCRF project (Culture and Bodies MC_PC_MR/R024448/1), the research team has scoped the potential for using an innovative arts-based methodology to access the cultural, affective and emotional drivers of NCDs that are held in the collective imaginary of a community and therefore not representable through interview or survey.6 At a workshop in Lilongwe (June 2018), we worked closely with local community members to trial strategies for such a methodology. Our partners in Malawi and Tanzania are convinced of the value of this arts-informed approach to developing culturally-situated understandings of NCD drivers, and of departing from existing models of using community/participatory/social arts in health research. The complexity of developing/implementing a tailored, fit-for-purpose arts-based methodology requires additional capacity strengthening, including training local researchers/arts practitioners in the new arts-based enquiry data generation, collection and analysis techniques. The 5-day workshop in Glasgow was therefore designed to:

  • Objective 1: consolidate learning from the Malawi workshop and finalise the robust, fit-for-purpose arts-based NCD enquiry method for piloting in Malawi and Tanzania.
  • Objective 2: train Malawi and Tanzania researchers/arts practitioners to conduct data generation arts-based activities and data collection with local communities.
  • Objective 3: train Malawi and Tanzania researchers/arts practitioners to conduct robust analysis of arts-based data.
  • Objective 4: disseminate the new arts-based NCD enquiry methodology to other researchers and arts practitioners through online documentation of the workshop.

PI and Co-Is

PI: Zoë Strachan (School of Critical Studies, College of Arts & Humanities, University of Glasgow)

Co-Is: Mia Perry  (School of Education, University of Glasgow); Cindy Gray and Chris Bunn (Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow)

Start and End Date

1 October 2018 - 31 March 2019

Funder and Funding Amount

Scottish Funding Council (via University of Glasgow, GCRF Small Grants Fund). Amount: £13,000