HIV/AIDS represents one of the most serious challenges to public health in South Africa today. Much of the burden of care has fallen on poor communities and families. This project aimed at understanding factors that facilitate community participation, community empowerment and the community’s role in improving conditions for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The research project explored the social aspects of care and support for PLWHA through a social capital framework and lens. Social capital is defined as ‘the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively’. The three main forms of social capital used in the study were: Bonding social capital referring to intra-community networks that allow people to get by, bridging social capital that provides a way for people to get ahead, and linking social capital that connects people across vertical power differences.
The research project was based in a semi-rural community in KwaZulu-Natal. The population is predominantly isiZulu-speaking and black African. The area is poverty-stricken, with lack of basic infrastructure, and HIV/AIDS is rife. The project consisted of several sub-studies using a range of different methods including surveys, questionnaires, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, participatory observation, field notes, flow charts and drawings, and narrative theatre. Participants included randomly or purposefully selected individual community members; community members involved in HIV/AIDS care and support; PLWHA; family carers; volunteer care workers, grassroots groups and organisations; NGOs and external agencies operating in the area.
In addition to the core researcher team, the study built capacity through including 2 female PhD students, 10 Master students and 1 Honours student, all of whom have successfully graduated.