1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Politics and Political Economy of HIV/AIDS

  • Project from: 2003 to 2005


Under this project, which continues UNRISD research on the development aspects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, studies are being commissioned in a number of countries—including Brazil, India, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe—in order to shed light on the political and economic forces that shape responses to the pandemic. The goal is to move beyond simplistic analyses of “national success stories” to a better understanding of the combination of forces—political, corporate, religious, bureaucratic, and public advocacy—that influence HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment, and mitigation decisions and responses.

Of the many social, economic and political factors that drive and determine responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, structures of national and international political economy are among the most significant. Various decision makers and stakeholders assess what they expect to gain or lose by speaking out and taking substantive action on HIV/AIDS issues. These political considerations and decisions have remained largely hidden in analyses of the pandemic, but many have long-term implications for more fully shaping effective responses to HIV/AIDS.

From early on, national governments often denied the existence of HIV/AIDS, dismissed its potential harm or moved slowly to offer supplementary health services to people living with HIV/AIDS. Combined with reforms in many national health care systems during the 1980s and 1990s, individuals and families had to use their incomes/savings/assets to pay substantial sums for the costs of treating HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections. The result has been a shift in expenditures, the rapid impoverishment of large segments of the population in numerous countries, and long-term economic losses to nations.

International and bilateral agencies have, from the mid-1980s onwards, used their funding largely to create prevention and care programs that emphasize individual behaviours, rather than looking at behaviour within a social, economic and political context. Local realities are often ignored, assuring that the pace and direction of the pandemic remains well ahead of most responses.

The combination of such national and international political economy structures has left little room for debate, experimentation with interventions, or consultation with specialists from development disciplines. Yet all are crucial in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

This project is funded by the Royal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway and UNRISD core funds. For more information on the project research team and related UNRISD work on health and on HIV/AIDS, please use the links on the right.