- Can an Analysis of Social Identity Contribute to Effective Intervention Against the HIV/AIDS Pandemic?
This special issue of Transformation examines three themes: Identities, interventions and activism in the context of HIV/AIDS in Africa. In this electronic interview, carried out on behalf of the guest editorial team by Relebohile Moletsane, Edward K Kirumira, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, comments on the role of the social sciences, particularly an analysis of identities, in contributing to a better understanding of, and effective interventions against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
RM: What do you see as the major issues/problems surrounding social identities and HIV/AIDS in Uganda and the rest of Africa south of the Sahara?
Kirumira: Although evidence exists that challenges the argument of social identities as the determinants for the spread of HIV, strong perceptions continue to exist and to influence HIV/AIDS policy programming. This has not helped to reduce stigmatisation often based on identities.
Secondly, in Uganda just like most of sub-Saharan Africa, the family and community provide the only consistent safety net, in the absence of formal health and general social insurance. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has stretched these safety nets tremendously thus putting in question advantages accruing to social identity(ies). That is, identifying oneself with an extended family, or a community may unfortunately not present the same advantages it presented two decades ago!
RM: How do you see social science contributing to understandings of the HIV pandemic and to the development of effective interventions to combat transmission in the region? [End Page 154]
Kirumira: When the first cases of what looked like HIV presentation were identified in southern Uganda (current Rakai District), the local population was quick to associate it with unscrupulous traders who had cheated across the Tanzanian border and were therefore bewitched. As the pandemic gained ground the bio-medical explanation gained prominence. However, by 1993, the Uganda AIDS Control Program started looking beyond for behavioural-based approaches to the prevention and control of the pandemic. Today, care and support are presenting themselves as critical in containing the impact as well as a powerful motivating factor in accessing and utilising counselling and testing services for the infected and affected. In all these, it is demonstrated that the individual, the community and the state are major players in the spread, prevention and control of HIV/AIDS.
Relationships, whether social, economic and/or political, are central to the understanding and manifestation of the pandemic in the sub-region. Social Sciences, therefore, present a very strong opportunity for studying, planning and evaluating the incidence, prevalence and most importantly the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda is an example of this where the breakthrough has been associated with factors like political will and commitment, community mobilisation and involvement, and care and support systems. The latter have been characterised by initiatives such as the Philly Lutaya Initiative (PLI) and the Post Test Clubs (PTCs).
The Philly Lutaya Initiative derives its name from a Ugandan singer, based in Sweden at the time, who was one of the first celebrity Ugandans to declare publicly that he had AIDS. He wrote and sang many songs based on and with AIDS prevention messages including 'Alone and Frightened'. NGOs —including AIDS Information Centre (AIC) and The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) adopted the approach by having or supporting drama groups that composed songs and plays depicting HIV/AIDS prevention and control messages. The Post Test Clubs on the other hand were formed as support groups for people that had undergone HIV testing, whether or not they were HIV+. People share their experiences and at the same time PTCs are used by agencies and NGOs to channel medical and social support to people living with AIDS. PLI and PTCs have had considerable success.
To consolidate these gains, social scientists will play an increasing role in providing models and frameworks for understanding the individual and group dynamics that make for risk reduction, de-stigmatisation, and the development of responsive policies and programs. [End Page 155]
RM: In your view, how do different identities (social class, gender, race, sexuality...