Dr Eva Maureau lived in the KwaZulu-Natal province, one of the areas worst hit by the virus anywhere in the world, so she could understand what barriers exist in the implementation of HIV prevention strategies.
HIV remains the world’s leading infectious killer. There are 35 million people living with HIV/Aids globally, with an estimated 24.7 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. With no known cure, HIV prevention is crucial.
Dr Maureau was first made aware of the severity of the HIV epidemic in South Africa during an undergraduate paper at the University of Cape Town in 2005. She has since dedicated her academic career to learning what factors influence the implementation of HIV prevention strategies in South Africa.
Dr Maureau graduated in an April ceremony with a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology, supervised by Associate Professor Rosemary Du Plessis and anthropologist Dr Richard Vokes (Social and Political Sciences).
During her time in KwaZulu-Natal Dr Maureau spent 10 months with the participants in professional, recreational and household settings. This allowed her to build a rapport with the research participants and gain a good understanding of the context in which the participants lived.
“They welcomed me with open arms, gave me a Zulu name and let me experience life as it is in the rural area,” she says.
Dr Maureau found that people act in relation to other people, not in isolation. HIV prevention behaviour is deeply impacted by what is generally considered appropriate within the community. In KwaZulu-Natal, it is difficult for people to negotiate practices that have a bad reputation, such as condom use.
“This should not be perceived as a lack of interest to prevent HIV transmission. Instead, my research portrays informed individuals introducing alternative HIV prevention strategies.
“This should teach foreign intervention programmes to move beyond ethnocentric assumptions and instead listen to the people on the ground and the solutions they consider appropriate. The thesis emphasises the importance of understanding the socio-economic context in which people live and interact with each other.
“Despite the specific topic and location of this research, I believe my findings can be applied to wider health promotion issues beyond the borders of KwaZulu-Natal, for example in New Zealand,” Dr Maureau says.
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