The experiences of people living with HIV and AIDS were studied by UKZN Social Work lecturer Dr Patricia Zengele for her PhD in Theology (Ministerial Studies).
‘The harsh reality we are facing in South Africa is that HIV and AIDS are still with us,’ said Zengele. ‘People continue to get infected, given all the education and awareness about prevention so there is a need for consistency in engaging with optimum health issues prioritising prevention of HIV and AIDS.
‘My research is beneficial as it highlights the pandemic as a social disease. It is important to work on people’s perceptions and the meaning they give to their world, additional to physical health.’
A highlight for Zengele was ‘creating safer spaces for inner healing and allowing the real voices of people living with HIV to share their lived experiences without judgement. ‘They felt liberated to genuinely present their experiences to change their narrative towards hope with HIV as opposed to the negativity associated with the disease as a death sentence. My study affirmed that as human beings we are all eager to pursue life against all odds,’ she said.
Zengele’s findings revealed there were new possibilities in living with HIV and AIDS. ‘Embracing life allows for endless opportunities to be explored in an HIV and AIDS context that challenges unnecessary stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. The availability of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) ensures prolonged livelihoods for HIV positive communities.’
Zengele advised other students: to ‘never lose hope. Focus on your dreams and vision to obtain your planned objectives.’
Zengele’s twin brother Patrick died during her studies. ‘He was my cheerleader throughout this journey. Sadly, he won’t be with me now to celebrate my graduation. I dedicate my PhD to him. His spirit lives on’, she said. ‘I thank all members of the Social Work discipline for providing me with much-needed support and space to finish my doctorate. I am grateful to the rest of my family, friends and supervisor for their support.’