The Mercurial Piece of the HIV/AIDS Puzzle: ‘Stigma' and HIV/AIDS in South Africa As a Social Scientist's Challenge

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 2:30 PM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Leah GILBERT , Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
‘Stigma’ and its relationship to health and disease is not a new phenomenon. However, it has not been a major feature in the public discourse until the emergence of HIV/AIDS. The range of negative responses associated with the epidemic placed ‘stigma’ on the public agenda and drew attention to its complexity as a phenomenon and concept worthy of further investigation. Despite the consensus that stigma is one of the major contributors to the rapid spread of HIV and the frequent use of the term in the media and among people in the street, the exact meaning of ‘stigma’ remains ambiguous. Therefore, its conceptual complexity and its embodiment in the reality of HIV/AIDS in South Africa present a formidable challenge for social scientists who continue to grapple with the questions it raises.

The main aim of this presentation is to briefly re-visit some of the scholarly deliberations and further interrogate their relevance in explaining the HIV/AIDS-related stigma evidenced in South Africa. Although it provides more nuanced understandings of the concept, most of the literature reviewed adds a level of complexity that requires further investigation and renders measuring stigma more problematic. The presentation argues that the fact that there is such an abundance of scholarly articles on the concept and its definitions is testament to the fact that they do not provide adequate explanations for the various manifestations of stigma. In addition, the explosion of studies looking at ‘measuring’ stigma and reducing its impact is evidence that ‘stigma’ exists out there and continues to be a threat to the successful implementation of public health programmes.