The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Making Sense of HIV/AIDs in Informal Settlements in sub-Saharan Africa

13 November 2014

Making Sense of HIV/AIDs in Informal Settlements in sub-Saharan Africa

From 30th – 31st October 2014, we hosted a workshop which focused on  Conceptualising the interactions between HIV and AIDS and urban informal settlements in eastern and southern African cities. This workshop was part of a UCL Grand Challenges funded project that a team from the DPU (Colin Marx, Caren Levy, Julian Walker) has been undertaking with Sarah Hawkes from the UCL Institute for Global Health (IGH) for collaborative desk research into the relationship between HIV and AIDS and informal settlements in sub-Saharan Africa.

The workshop interrogated the findings of this desk research, drawing on the experience of practitioners working on urban development issues and HIV/AIDs from southern and eastern Africa. To this end, Colin, Caren, Julian and Sohel Ahmed from DPU, and Flora Wu (IGH) were joined by: Caroline Kabiru, a research scientist from the African Population and Health Research Center’s Population Dynamics and Reproductive Health program (Nairobi); Heriana Mwakipunda from the Tanzanian NGO Pastoral Activities and Services for people with AIDS Dar es Salaam Archdiocese (PASADA); Mirjam van Donk, who directs the Isandla Institute (Cape Town), a public interest think tank with a primary focus on fostering just, equitable, sustainable and democratic urban habitats, and; Liz Thomas, a senior scientist at the Centre for Health Policy, University of the Witwatersrand, who has published widely on the relationships between HIV and urban development and local government, and co-ordinated initiatives for both UNAIDS and UNDP.

We were also able to use to opportunity of the workshop to share the experience of our visiting practitioners from Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa during a public event held at the DPU on the evening of 30th October.

The workshop was a fantastic opportunity to engage critically with a body of research on both HIV/AIDs and informal settlements, with insights from visiting participants who are embedded in the experiences and politics of relating to both of these issues southern and eastern Africa. One issue highlighted was that much of the literature and accepted wisdom on HIV in informal settlements is increasingly inappropriate in an epidemic which has moved on from its early years into one in which effective treatment is increasingly available, with impacts on mortality, population dynamics and household structures. Another, highly relevant to the work of the DPU, was the observation that informal settlements - due to population density and public awareness of vulnerabilities - may actually represent a site of opportunity for addressing HIV/AIDs, as evidenced by better uptake of voluntary testing among informal settlement residents than other urban populations.

We are now considering ways of moving forward with this fruitful collaboration and thinking, in particular, about this discussion could provide the basis for a research and advocacy network working with those in southern and eastern Africa, such as local government actors, who have an interest in and perspective on both HIV and informal settlements.