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Social scientists leave conference armed with fresh ideas
Saturday 27 August 2005
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AFRICA: Social scientists leave conference armed with fresh ideas

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  TAC

Protestors from South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign.

CAPE TOWN, 12 May (PLUSNEWS) - The Second African Conference on Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research (SAHARA) held in Cape Town, South Africa, drew to a close on Wednesday, leaving delegates armed with fresh learning and new networks.

"The establishment of a network that focuses on the social aspects around HIV/AIDS is recognition that an exceptional epidemic requires exceptional action on the part of everyone," Mbulawa Mugabe, UNAIDS country coordinator for South Africa, told PlusNews.

Over 120 contributions were presented at the four-day conference, organised by South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), with the theme of "Promoting an African Alliance to Mitigate the Effects of HIV/AIDS on a Sustainable Basis".

"For the second time we've had a group of experts in their fields come together, a continent-wide research alliance on social aspects of HIV/AIDS," said Dr Olive Shisana, HSRC executive director.

Professor Miriam Were, chairperson of the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya, stressed the urgent need for research to inform policies. "We need to counter hopelessness and energise a fighting spirit," she told the delegates.

Over 350 representatives from more than 33 African countries attended the conference, including social researchers, government officials, policy-makers, NGOs and donor agencies.

"In addition to the regional meetings of SAHARA, what was of particular interest was the study in Senegal on men that have sex with men (MSM)," said Dr Shisana.

"In the past, across Africa, we have only looked at HIV as a heterosexual disease. But because this group is so marginalised, the chances are high that they marry, and infect their partners. This study draws attention to the need for more research and interventions designed for MSM," she noted.

"Another research paper debunked the myth that people on antiretroviral drugs (ARV) are more likely to have unprotected sex," Shisana added. "The sharing of research forms an essential part of the SAHARA network."

Researcher Lindiwe Majele Sibanda from the University of Zimbabwe said the conference provided an excellent forum for networking.

"The conference allowed for people to present findings from research in progress, and it addressed issues well beyond just treatment and care. The challenge is for SAHARA to develop a database, that will keep running, of what researchers have done post-presentation of their papers. This will keep the conference, the network and the sharing alive," she said.

Mugabe of UNAIDS asked, "How do we employ the social sciences into programmes? The challenge is to take the programmes to scale. Social sciences help us explore where clinical science cannot - for this reason we must use the evidence to get around limitations. We require evidence that interventions are making a difference, and then we must scale up these interventions and make the finite resources work for us," he told PlusNews.

"The challenge is to demonstrate what we have learned, and to make the resources we have, work to turn the epidemic around."


Recent AFRICA Reports
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 247, 26 August 2005,  26/Aug/05
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IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 247, 19 August 2005,  19/Aug/05
The plight of rape victims endures,  19/Aug/05
Poverty and gender inequality negating anti-HIV/AIDS efforts,  18/Aug/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Mothers and HIV/AIDS

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