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Fear, hope and social desirability bias among women at high risk for HIV in West Africa
  1. Greg Guest, PhD, Senior Research Associate1,
  2. Arwen Bunce, MA, Senior Research Analyst1,
  3. Laura Johnson, MA, Research Associate1,
  4. Betty Akumatey, MA, Lecturer2 and
  5. Lawrence Adeokun, PhD, Senior Social Scientist3
  1. Family Health International, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA
  2. Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
  3. Association for Reproductive and Family Health, Ibadan, Nigeria
  1. Correspondence to Dr Greg Guest, Family Health International, PO Box 13950, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA. Tel: +1 919 544 7040. E-mail: gguest{at}


Background Self-reports are widely used for measuring behaviour in HIV research and prevention, yet the accuracy of these measures has been shown to be questionable in many cases. Social desirability bias (SDB) is one of the key factors identified as affecting self-report accuracy.

Methods Using in-depth interviews, we examined SDB from the perspective of 60 women at high risk for HIV in two West African countries: Ghana and Nigeria. We solicited suggestions for reducing SDB in the context of HIV research and prevention, and asked for feedback regarding methods currently being employed to reduce SDB.

Results Themes pertaining to fear and a desire to have a better life were pervasive throughout the data. Thematic structure was similar between sites and age groups, although younger women tended to be more concerned about the interview context.

Conclusions Vulnerability of a population should be considered when asking sensitive questions. Audio-computer-assisted self-interviews may not be appropriate for vulnerable populations in developing countries, particularly for older respondents.

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