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 The Centre for Research in HIV and AIDS

As a virtual centre based at the School of Public Health (SOPH), the Centre for Research in HIV and AIDS (CRHA) catalyses critical inquiry and co-ordinates multi-disciplinary HIV-related research across the University and beyond. It seeks to support and add value to this research and its use in the field – from policy and systems development through to implementation by government, civil society and other partners.

Recognising both the deeply cross-disciplinary efforts needed to address HIV, and the impossibility of ‘doing it all’, the Centre has increasingly focused its work over the past few years. Our research grants have been concentrated in two major areas: integrating HIV and TB and its drivers within health systems strengthening; and the social determinants of HIV and TB risk, with a particular emphasis on migration. In partnership with the UWC HIV and AIDS Programme, we have also focussed on gender-based violence.

The annual UWC HIV-in-Context research symposia has remained our flagship, while sustained attention has been paid to student work and capacity strengthening, notably through writing retreats and fostering active engagement in policy and research dialogue through participation in national and international conferences.

This approach has allowed relationships and skills to be developed and activities to be ‘joined up’ organically, without losing the responsiveness to context that is central to our work.

Founding projects

This biennium saw the successful completion and positive external evaluations of the CRHA’s two major founding grants. The first was ‘Transforming health and education policies and systems for improved HIV prevention and care’ which was part of the UWCVLIR-UOS partnership, ‘Dynamics of Building a Better Society’ – while the second was the ‘Human capacity development to address HIV and AIDS in South Africa’ funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC - see page 39 for the constituent projects). As a result, 2014 was an important transition year for the Centre, with significant attention being paid to the final close-out of the CDC-funded project and the production of a book on the lessons learned through the VLIR-UOS-UWC Partnership (see Zarowsky C, Lees J, Temmerman M – page 61).

Ongoing work

In 2013 and 2014, we continued work which reflects the Centre’s focus on health systems and social determinants of health, particularly in the project ‘Mainstreaming a health systems approach to delivery of maternal health services: Transdisciplinary research in Rwanda and South Africa’ (page 25). We also secured new grants or extended funding for three projects: ‘Health Systems Resilience: A complex adaptive systems analysis’ (page 26), ‘Increasing access to TB case finding and treatment in Sisonke District, South Africa’ (page 38) and ‘Ethnographic exploration of migration health and social support in the Cape Metropole’ (page 41).

This research has led to a range of outcomes comprising publications (including student-first-authored peerreviewed papers), new PhDs (two graduates in 2013), post-doctoral fellows, interns, and policy engagement as both Masters and Doctoral graduates take up, or return to, positions within local, provincial and national government.

In 2013 the Centre hosted two HIV-in-Context Symposia. The 5th symposium on ‘Urbanisation, Inequality and HIV’ was held in March while the 6th Symposium – ‘HIV in Africa beyond the MDGs: Emerging Voices, Emerging Agendas’ – was held in December as the culmination of a successful Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) programme convened with our partners from the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine (see page 19). This included supporting these young EV4GH researchers to engage in ICASA 2013, the largest HIV conference in Africa, in which CRHA also organised some sessions.


The 7th symposium – planned for 2014, but ultimately held in March 2015 – built on the ‘Urbanisation, Inequality and HIV’ symposium, and reported on our research on cross-border migrants accessing health services.

The Centre also hosted a number of public seminars in 2013 and 2014:

  • Irregular migration, human trafficking and HIV and AIDS in South Africa - Joshua Aransiola, CRHA post-doctoral fellow.

  • Who cares: Heading home in the other shoes -Patricia Repar, University of New Mexico (co-hosted with UWC HIV and AIDS Programme).

  • Making health care accountable: The role of civil society in monitoring stockouts - Amir Shroufi and Andrew Mews, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).

  • Monitoring socio-economic inequalities in health: Global lessons from Scotland - John Frank, Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, Edinburgh.

2014 also included a University-mandated review of the first five years of the CRHA, which included a major self-evaluation and an updated audit of HIV and AIDS work at UWC.

The Centre has consulted regularly with its Advisory Board and, in February 2014, with a group of South African and international colleagues. This re-affirmed UWC’s and the CRHA’s special niche as an intersection of theoretical/critical analysis of the systems and social dimensions of HIV, with very practical, focused, contextsensitive research and intervention at the ‘coalface’. It also noted the value of the efforts made in support of developing African research capacity for such critical but applied work through our work with students.

Ways forward

The Centre’s work has been accomplished with very limited infrastructure and ‘core’ financial and human resource – the latter comprising a small, dedicated and energetic team and excellent support from SOPH. It has worked to realise its scope and vision by applying project funds not only to specific project objectives, but also to the cross-cutting vision and goal of building a Centre for Research in HIV and AIDS.

As the two founding projects ended, a transition in leadership was also underway, as the Centre’s founding director, Christina Zarowsky, returned to Canada to head the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the new School of Public Health of the University of Montreal. She retains an active involvement with the SOPH through her appointment as an extraordinary professor.

The Centre’s website is a repository of our activities and products and we invite you to visit it at


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University of the Western Cape,
Robert Sobukwe Road,
Bellville, 7535,
Republic of South Africa | +27 21 959 2911