School managers' understanding of HIV/AIDS in Gauteng, South Africa

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This paper presents the diverse understandings of HIV/AIDS and people living with HIV (PLHIV) revealed by school managers in a selection of public schools in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Discussions with school managers emerged as part of a larger investigation into the interplay of culture and gender in people's experience of HIV. The respondents from five public schools comprised head teachers, school board members, educators and adult learners. The data were assembled from semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, comments on rumours and gossip, and informal conversations. Mary Douglas's (1966) analysis of the theory of cultural risk has provided the main approach for explaining the prevailing understandings of HIV and AIDS among the South African educators. Despite good knowledge of HIV and AIDS, the respondents' understanding of the disease and the experiences of PLHIV were commonly drawn from six categories of meaning: biomedical, cultural, religious, witchcraft, race, and eschatology. Social constructs were strong in terms of the ways HIV/AIDS and PLHIV were understood in these South African education workplaces. The findings imply that new strategies are required from the government and agencies that are involved in developing responses to the HIV epidemic, especially in the education sector.
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