First PhD in the MaxART programme

January 18, 2017

On January 18, 2016 at the University of Amsterdam Fortunate Sindisiwe Shabalala of Swaziland has succesfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Longing for Belonging: Adolescents' experiences of living with HIV in different types of families in Swaziland'. Her research has been conducted in the MaxART programme.

Fortunate's research work has contributed greatly to the MaxART For Better Health and Zero New HIV Infections Phase 1 results. "A lot of research has been done about adolescents and HIV, but very few have been done with and by adolescents", started Fortunate her defense. She has been the driving force together with adolescents themselves to ensure their stories were told and heard.

"At the beginning of this journey, it seemed impossible that I would one day have a final product, but now that it is done, it is possible! Kini nonkhe ngitsi Umdali akanisikelele!" is how she describes her intense feelings in her dissertation.

The Rector Magnificus, chair of the PhD Examining Committee, complemented Fortunate on being "very concise and convinced in her answers". At Aidsfonds (previously STOP AIDS NOW!) we congratulate Dr Fortunate Shabalala with her PhD and we are very proud of what she has achieved both personally and for the MaxART programme.


Thesis abstract

Her study illuminates adolescents' everyday life experiences of living with HIV in different family contexts in the Manzini region in Swaziland, and the tactics they used to navigate the social and health system environments in their management of the HIV illness and disease.

A significant proportion of the adolescents who participated in study had been orphaned by the epidemic, resulting in some having to live in single-parent households, step families, skipped-generation households, in child-headed households, in foster homes or on their own. The study reveal a disconnect between the idealised family referred to in global and national HIV policy guidelines and biomedical practices at the health facility level on the one hand, and adolescents' perceptions of the family on the other.

The study shows how the desire for belonging, described as a sense of emotional and psychological connection, and of being welcomed and accepted, was a central quest among adolescents regardless of the type of family they lived in and with: adolescents shared how having the same diagnosis (HIV), being on the same treatment (ART), experiencing similar challenges such as being stigmatised, created among them a strong sense of familyness, of safety and being "one big family".
Read Fortunate's full dissertation

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