Confronting HIV/AIDS in a South African village: the impact of health-seeking behaviour
Tollman, Stephen M.
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Much social science research on HIV/AIDS focuses on its impact within affected communities and how people try to cope with its consequences. Based on fieldwork in rural South Africa, this article shows ways in which the inhabitants of a village react to illness, in general, and the role their reactions play in facilitating the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS. There is potentially a strong connection between the manner in which people respond to illness in general, and actual transmission of infection. By influencing the way villagers react to episodes of ill health, folk beliefs about illness and illness causation may create avenues for more people to become infected. This suggests that efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot succeed without tackling the effects of folk beliefs. Therefore, in addressing the problem of HIV/AIDS, experts should focus on more than disseminating information about cause and transmission, and promoting abstinence, safe sex, and other technocratic fixes. Our findings suggest that people need information to facilitate not only decision-making about how to self-protect against infection, but also appropriate responses when infection has already occurred.