AIDS and Society Research Unit

Sad, Bad and Mad: The individualisation and medicalisation of child abandonment in South Africa

19 September, 2017 - 12:45 to 14:00
Deirdre Blackie ,MA Anthropology, Wits University
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

The incidence of child abandonment has increased in South Africa over the past decade, whilst the solution of adoption continues to decline.  A review of the Registry of Adoptable Children and Parents (RACAP) indicates that the majority of children registered have been abandoned into the child protection system, and a minority formally consented for adoption by their biological parents. This research explores the experience and representations of child abandonment in urban Johannesburg, South Africa. I suggest that child abandonment has been individualised and medicalised in South Africa.  Individualised, in that it has been termed a problem that falls entirely within the domain of poor women, and frequently that these women are young teenagers.  Medicalised in that a social behaviour that is not new, is increasingly being defined in medical terms through the portrayal and labelling of the abandoning mother as emotionally unstable and criminally insane.  I argue that this has been done in an attempt to motivate for stricter surveillance and control over young women’s sexual reproductive health and to divert attention from the state’s role in addressing this growing social challenge.  

Presenter biography
Dee Blackie is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Wits University, her research focuses on the lived experience of learning disabilities and developmental disorders. Following a 15-year career in business/brand consulting and change management, Dee started working in the child protection and adoption community in 2010.  She facilitated the creation of the National Adoption Coalition for South Africa in 2011, and since then her primary focus has been on creating awareness and engaging with communities around child protection challenges.  Dee completed her MA in 2014, her research explored child abandonment and adoption in the context of African ancestral beliefs. 

Vectors or Victims? High HIV transmission risk among adolescents living with HIV in a community-traced study in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

29 August, 2017 - 12:45 to 14:00
Elona Toska
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

Recent genetic mapping and observational studies among sero-discordant couples suggest that HIV transmission happens when virally-unsuppressed HIV-positive people engage in high-risk sexual practices. Adolescents living with HIV report high rates of non-adherence to ART and low viral suppression. Adolescence is also a time of experimenting with sexual and romantic partnerships. This paper documents which HIV-positive adolescents are most at risk of secondary HIV transmission to their sexual partners. It analyses data from the Mzantsi Wakho baseline which included 1,060 adolescents living with HIV from the Eastern Cape province in South Africa. One in five HIV+ adolescents reported high sexual risk, over half reported high viral activity, and 12% reported both. These adolescents at high risk of HIV transmission were older, lived in rural areas and reported high vulnerabilities and high-risk relationships. Combinations of these risk factors resulted in higher HIV transmission risk, suggesting the need for multi-component interventions to address these composite vulnerabilities.

Presenter Biography:

Elona is a post-doctoral research fellow at the AIDS and Society Research Unit at UCT.
She recently completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford, focusing on the sexual practices of HIV-positive adolescents as part of the Mzantsi Wakho longitudinal cohort study. She spent 2013-2014 in the Eastern Cape province in South Africa, setting up and coordinating the baseline study of the Mzantsi Wakho longitudinal cohort. She works closely with Prof. Lucie Cluver (Oxford) and Dr. Rebecca Hodes (UCT), with whom she is currently conceptualising a study on adolescent parenthood in the context of HIV and is looking forward to learning from colleagues with experience in related research and programming. Elona works closely with a wonderful team of researchers which include colleagues at the University of Cape Town, Curtin University in Australia and healthcare providers and researchers in the Eastern Cape. When not coordinating fieldwork in rural and urban Eastern Cape, Elona enjoys helping her fellow research team members facilitate workshops on health issues with youth, which sometimes include sleeping in the back of bakkies, running lots of energizers, and organising snack breaks - usually with a two-year old baby in town.


Perspectives and experiences of caregivers enrolled in a paediatric HIV disclosure programme in the peri-urban township of Khayelitsha, Cape Town

22 August, 2017 - 12:45 to 14:00
Namhla Sicwebu, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Cape Town.
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

South Africa has a low pediatric HIV disclosure rate, attributed to caregiver propensity to delay disclosure and a lack of institutional guidelines at health care facility level. Caregivers often cite lack of disclosure skills, concern for children’s psychological well-being after disclosure and fear children might inadvertently disclose to others as barriers to early disclosure. Moreover, at a structural level, health care facilities lack resources needed to adequately facilitate the process of disclosure. In 2015, a caregiver-led disclosure programme was developed and implemented in a peri-urban township in Cape Town. The programme utilises two illustrated disclosure books as tools for change and seeks to move disclosure from the health care facility to the community.

To understand the perspectives and experiences of caregivers who received the disclosure booklets, and to explore what role social and cultural factors play in shaping acceptability of initiating pediatric HIV disclosure.

Lunch will be served from 12:30

For further details, please contact:

Tel: 021 650 4656

Child abuse in South Africa: prevalence, risk factors, prevention and measurement issues

4 April, 2017 - 14:30 to 15:30
Dr. Franziska Meinck
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

Child abuse victimisation is a major public health concern in South Africa. Research on risk and protective factors and prevention interventions is still in its infancy. In this talk, Franziska will describe findings on linkages between risk factors of abuse and putative health outcomes as well as ongoing research on the prevention of child abuse using parenting interventions. Further, she will talk about issues regarding the measurement of child abuse and potential ways forward to mitigate these.

Presenter biography: Franziska Meinck is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Centre for Evidence-Based Interventions at the University of Oxford. She holds a BA in Social Work from the Free University of Bolzano-Bozen, an MSc in Evidence-Based Social Interventions and a DPhil in Social Interventions from the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the epidemiology of child abuse in South Africa investigating prevalence rates and risk and protective factors as well as access to services. Her new research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK aims to develop and validate child abuse measures for use in intervention studies in different cultural contexts.

ASRU Postdoctoral Fellowship Mzantsi Wakho (Closes 15th November 2016)

The AIDS and Society Research Unit (ASRU) at the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR) invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship for a suitably qualified individual to join a research project on adolescent health in South Africa. For more information please visit

Mzantsi Wakho web page launched -

Mzantsi Wakho (‘Your South Africa’) is based in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape. Its academic homes are at the University of Cape Town, and Oxford University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention.
The study seeks to answer several research questions about youth health, with a focus on medicines-taking and sexual and reproductive health. It uses multiple methods and data sources to identify and investigate risk and resilience-promoting factors, through linked qualitative and quantitative studies.

Elona Toska ,CSSR Research Fellow presented Mzantsi Wakho Findings at the 20th International Workshop on HIV Observational Database -Budapest

Elona Toska, CSSR Research Fellow, presented preliminary findings from the Mzantsi Wakho study (led by Dr. Rebecca Hodes at ASRU and Prof. Lucie Cluver at U. of Oxford) at the 20th International Workshop on HIV Observational Databases in Budapest, Hungary on April 7-9, 2016. IWHOD brings together junior and senior researchers from both developed and developing countries working on cohorts of patients with HIV, to present in an informal format their latest findings and work in progress, followed by open discussions on common issues of cohort methodology, techniques and statistics. Elona presented preliminary findings on linkages between social protection and unprotected sex in the Mzantsi Wakho adolescent health study, which is part of her doctoral research. These findings suggest that combinations of interventions are associated with greater reductions in unprotected sex. These effects were even stronger among adolescent girls.

Lesley Gittings at ASRU published in the Journal of Culture, Health and Sexuality

Congratulations to Lesley Gittings for her first peer-reviewed article, which has recently been published in the Journal of Culture, Health and Sexuality. The article, entitled ‘”When you visit a man you should prepare yourself”: male community care worker approaches to working with men living with HIV in Cape Town, South Africa’ is based on her Masters Thesis and was first developed as a CSSR working paper. See:

Lesley Gittings awarded NRF funding

Lesley Gittings has been awarded funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) under their Innovation scheme (international non-SADC student category) for 2016. The Innovation Doctoral funding instrument is part of the Innovation Bursary Scheme (IBS) funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF). It aims to broaden the frontiers of knowledge in innovation areas and to build the PhD pipeline for a knowledge based economy. The competitive evaluation process is based on academic performance, leadership roles, potential research outputs and impact, and the feasibility and merit of the applicant’s research project proposal.

Publication update

Rebecca Hodes has published an article in the Journal of Southern African Studies, 42, 1 (2016), pp. 79-93, as part of a special edition on 'South Africa in Transition'. The volume is edited by Jason Robinson, Jonny Steinberg and David Simon. Hodes's article is entitled 'The Culture of Illegal Abortion in South Africa'.

The article is available here, and the abstract is below:


ASRU at the SA AIDS Conference

The recent Southern African AIDS Conference in Durban showcased the research findings of the Mzantsi Wakho study. Members of the research team presented in over a dozen sessions during the conference, including a plenary. ASRU's director, Rebecca Hodes, chaired the 'social sciences, economics and human rights' track at the conference. All submissions for symposia, roundtables, oral abstract sessions and posters were peer-reviewed. The full list of presentations is attached. The full conference programme is available here.


ASRU publishes article in AIDS

ASRU's director, Rebecca Hodes, has co-authored the first article on findings from the Mzantsi Wakho study, published in AIDS, the most highly-cited journal in HIV research. The Mzantsi Wakho study is a collaboration between the ASRU and Oxford University's Department of Social Policy and Intervention. The research team partners with UNICEF, Paediatric HIV Treatment for Africa, and the National Departments of Health, Basic Education and Social Development, to study how adolescents in the Eastern Cape use HIV treatment and sexual health services. The article presents findings from combined research methods, including longitudinal data, focus groups and direct observations in clinics and leisure spaces, to explore associations between HIV disclosure and adherence to antiretroviral treatment among teenagers in the Eastern Cape.

Sex and secrecy: knowledge of HIV status, disclosure and sexual practices among HIV-positive adolescents in South Africa

24 March, 2015 - 12:45 to 14:00
Rebecca Hodes (AIDS and Society Research Unit, Centre for Social Science Research, UCT) and Elona Toska (Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford University)
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

HIV-positive adolescents who engage in unsafe sex are at heightened risk for transmitting or re-acquiring HIV. Disclosure of HIV-status to sexual partners may impact on condom use, but no large-scale, mixed methods studies have explored the effects of adolescent knowledge of one’s HIV status, knowledge of partner status, and disclosure to partners on safer sex. This study aimed to identify whether knowledge of HIV-status by HIV-positive adolescents and partners was associated with safer sex. 684 HIV-positive adolescents who had ever initiated ART in 39 health facilities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, were interviewed using standardised questionnaires. Quantitative analyses used multivariate logistic regressions, controlling for confounders. Qualitative research included interviews, focus group discussions and observations with 43 HIV-positive teenagers, and their caregivers and healthcare workers. Knowledge of HIV-status among HIV-positive adolescents was associated with safer sexual practices, but knowing partner’s status and disclosure of HIV-positive status to sexual partners were not. These findings challenge assumptions that disclosure is automatically protective in sexual and romantic relationships for HIV-positive adolescents.