Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

Developing a Transformative Approach to HIV/AIDS Education: An analysis of Scotland and Zimbabwe

Tarsisio Nyatsanza is a PhD Student with the School of Education, University of Glasgow. His research looks into the narratives constructed to define the origins, responses and the development of HIV/AIDS policies in Scotland and Zimbabwe. Tarsisio recently presented his research on the GRAMNet Research Open Day, in relation to the Refugee Week. If you want to find out more, please e-mail Tarsisio: t.nyatsanza.1@research.gla.ac.uk

When I was preparing for my PhD, one of the wise pieces of advice I got was that it is always important to pursue something not only in which I have a passion but something that would make a significant contribution to knowledge. This is why HIV/AIDS was a topical area that drew my attention. This was not because it is ‘interesting’ in the traditional sense of the word but that it is currently very relevant due to its globalised nature. Despite this, it is also disproportionately spread around the world with the developed countries having the least number of infections and the developing countries bearing the greatest burden of the pandemic.

Global statistics indicate that over 34 million people are infected worldwide. As such, this is the worst pandemic that the world has experienced since the 1980s. The initial reactions to and the narratives that circumscribed the HIV/AIDS pandemic reflected fear, panic, shock and bewilderment. In short, the world just could not cope with what was in front of it. Beyond the initial reactions, different strands of explanatory models began to emerge: these ranged from the scientific to the social, political, cultural and religious. These models were in part based on certain conspiracy theories (Farmer, Saussy et al. 2010). Within the scientific strand for example, arguments made to the effect ‘it was an experiment which went wrong’ by creating an unintended virus. Politically, Chirimuuta (1987) was a chief protagonist of the fact the HIV was a racially induced project to wipe out black people.[1] The developed world on the other hand propounded that HIV was a result of a virus that jumped from monkeys to Africans. The religious strand offered at least two explanations namely that people were being punished by God for their transgressions and secondly that it was an apocalyptic sign of the end of the world. Within sub-Saharan Africa, witchcraft remained a pivotal discourse in explaining the existence of HIV/AIDS.[2]

Estimated number of people in the world living with HIV/AIDS in 2008.

Estimated number of people in the world living with HIV/AIDS in 2008.

However, more recently, medical research made some breakthroughs in terms of developing anti retroviral drugs (ARVs) which essentially stop the replication and mutation of the virus as well as prolonging the life of infected persons. Alongside these bio-medical successes, there also have been robust efforts by peer groups of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS to provide mutual care and support for each other. Despite these achievements, there are still huge challenges of stigma and discrimination. These are particularly though not exclusively targeted at homosexuals, intravenous drug users (IDUs), prostitutes, poor people, asylum seekers and refugees, the majority of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa.[3]

My PhD research will highlight the limitations of the bio-medical approach by suggesting a Transformative HIV/AIDS Education which is critical, broader, sustainable and emancipating.[4] This will be done through interviewing key informants and analysing selected policy documents on HIV/AIDS in Scotland and Zimbabwe. Scotland on the one hand has been chosen as an example of a developed country that has managed to respond effectively to the pandemic. Zimbabwe on the other hand has been chosen as an example of a developing country struggling to cope with the pandemic due to its fragile economy as well as an unstable socio-political situation.

The findings of my PhD will be disseminated in various forums in order to influence a re-thinking and re-shaping of HIV/AIDS policy and practice in Zimbabwe, Scotland and beyond. This way, my research will resonate with the Millenium Development Target (MDG) 6, namely to halt and reverse the spread of the pandemic.


[1] Chirimuuta, R. C. and R. J. Chirimuuta (1987). AIDS, Africa and racism, RC Chirimuuta North Burton-on-Trent.

[2] Rödlach, A. (2006). Witches, Westerners, and HIV: AIDS & cultures of blame in Africa, Left Coast Pr.

[3] See Farmer, P., H. Saussy, et al. (2010). Partner to the poor: a Paul Farmer reader, Univ of California Press; and Flint, A. (2011). HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa: Politics, aid and Globalisation, Palgrave Macmillan.

[4] See Mann, J. M. (1996). “Human rights and AIDS: the future of the pandemic.” J. Marshall L. Rev. 30: 195; and Mann, J. M. (1997). “Medicine and public health, ethics and human rights.” Hastings Center Report 27(3): 6-13.

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This entry was posted on June 24, 2013 by in Blogs and tagged , , , , .
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