AIDS and Society Research Unit Overview


ASRU is an inter-disciplinary research unit that conducts mixed methods social science research on the HIV epidemic and related health challenges. ASRU’s activities range from detailed local analyses (ASRU has led several surveys of people living with AIDS in Cape Town), to broader studies on the socio-economic and experiential dimensions of health and illness, primarily in the context of the ‘post-Apartheid’ present. ASRU encourages transdisciplinary and participatory research.

ASRU is home to the Mzantsi Wakho study at the University of Cape Town. This project, a collaboration between UCT, Oxford University and a number of government agencies and NGOs, is the largest known, longitudinal, community-traced, mixed methods study of medicines-taking and sexual health among HIV-positive adolescents. The study has informed policy and programming for youth health in South Africa, including through ASRU researchers’ lead authorship of South Africa’s National Adolescent and Youth Health Policy.

In recognition of its contribution to social engagement and enhanced learning across multiple sectors of the state and civil society, ASRU was the recipient of UCT’s ‘Social Responsiveness Award’ in 2020.  

ASRU was founded by the economist, Professor Nicoli Nattrass, in 1999. The politics of the AIDS epidemic, and public health more broadly, have changed substantially in the interceding decades. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, engaged, critical and empirical scholarship about the many dimensions of health and illness is as critical today as ever. Through combining multiple research methods and forms of analysis, and through ongoing collaborations with the public, and with policy-makers, programmers and implementers, ASRU aims to advance understandings of complex health issues, together with the most relevant and effective ways to address them.