Professor Mary Grace Flaherty receives Fulbright Award for research in Malawi

April 11, 2016

Dr. Mary Grace Flaherty

Mary Grace Flaherty, Assistant Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has received a Fulbright Teaching/Research Award for travel to Malawi, where she will study how people acquire and evaluate health information sources.

“I’m very excited for this opportunity,” said Flaherty. “To date, my research and teaching on health information seeking and provision has been focused in the United States, and I’m eager to expand my horizons internationally and learn from new colleagues about this universally important topic.”

The Fulbright will enable Flaherty to conduct research in Malawi from January to May 2017. Flaherty will partner with Mzuzu University and the Kwithu Women’s Group, a community-based organization focused on HIV-AIDS. Her research project has two primary objectives, to explore individuals’ health beliefs and how they are influenced and changed with contradictory information, and to understand which sources of health information (including informal sources such as neighbors and ministers) are most valued and trusted by HIV-positive individuals who choose faith-based treatment instead of antiretroviral medication.

“In northern Malawi, several sources have reported that dozens of people have gone off their antiretroviral medications in favor of faith-based, non-medical interventions and subsequently died,” Flaherty said. “In these example cases, empirical evidence makes it clear that rejecting medical guidelines can lead to death, and yet, people continue to make such choices. A better understanding of how people are exposed to, weigh, and evaluate differing information sources can provide a basis for more effective health education efforts and health information delivery.”

While conducting interviews and collecting data in Malawi, Flaherty will teach and advise students at Mzuzu University. Working in collaboration with the University’s Library and Information Science Department, she will adapt the “Health Sciences Information” course that she currently teaching at UNC for Mzuzu students, library staff, and interested faculty members.