Examining HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa through the eyes of ordinary Southern Africans

Type Working Paper - Afrobarometer Working Paper
Title Examining HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa through the eyes of ordinary Southern Africans
Issue 21
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2002
Page numbers 1-26
URL http://afrobarometer.org/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=39&limitstart=100
This paper marries public opinion survey data from the Afrobarometer with epidemiological data about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in seven Southern African countries. We use this data to examine the degree to which people are aware of the pandemic, and are willing to speak about it. We also use it to examine whether it yields any palpable consequences of the disease in terms of public health. In turn, we also ask whether data on public awareness of AIDS deaths and individual health status corroborate, broadly, existing epidemiological data on HIV/AIDS. Finally, we examine the degree to which HIV/AIDS affects southern Africans'political priorities, political participation, and expectations for government action.

Substantively, we find that nationally representative survey data supports the epidemiological data in many ways, providing an independent corroboration of expected levels of AIDS illness and death across the region. The epidemiological data tell us that people in all seven of these countries are growing ill and dying from AIDS in large numbers. The Afrobarometer surveys tell us that large numbers of people, in all seven countries, say they know someone who has died of AIDS and are willing to speak about it. Epidemiological estimates of AIDS deaths and popular experiences of AIDS deaths are closely correlated. Many people in these countries tell us that they are frequently ill, although the data do not disclose the nature of their illness. Epidemiological estimates of AIDS illnesses closely mirror the frequency with which people tell us that they are seriously ill.

In political terms, the Afrobarometer tells us some surprising things. Even where HIV/AIDS has reached severe levels and people are dying in large and rising numbers, and even where people recognise those deaths as the result of HIV infection, very few of them place HIV/AIDS high on the agenda for government intervention. Rather, the epidemic is superseded in most countries by demands for government action to create jobs, expand the economy, and improve crime and security, or is masked by demands for overall improvements in health-related services. Perhaps Southern Africans perceive HIV/AIDS as a problem for families and communities, and not for governments. Or perhaps - and perhaps more likely - they are engaging in rational prioritisation. Faced with grinding poverty and widespread unemployment, people may be more concerned with getting a chance to earn an income, feed their families, protect themselves from crime and insecurity, and obtain basic health care, than with being saved from a largely invisible killer.

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