By Prince Charles
American science philosopher Thomas Kuhn in his 1960 book titled ‘The structure of scientific revolutions’ coined the concept of a paradigm shift. He argued that scientists and activists all over the world adopt a certain fashion or a paradigm which they use to deal with epidemics or social issues, however due to an increasing number of anomalies that continue to be prevalent despite the paradigm being there, this therefore results in the necessity of a revolution or a paradigm shift in order to change the direction of an epidemic or social issue. The ninth South African Aids Conference which was underway in Durban, KwaZulu/Natal under the theme “Unprecedented Innovations and Technologies: HIV and Change”. The conference brought together nearly three thousand delegates who include policy makers, scientists, doctors, government officials and activists from across the country. One of the core areas of focus for the gathering according to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize was to find collaborative and sustainable plans to deal with the HIV/Aids epidemic.
Despite the litany of multi-sector interventions the rates of new infections continue to rise alarmingly, particularly among young women who are aged between 15-24 years, men who have sex with other men, female sex workers and transgender people. Furthermore the fight against HIV/Aids in South Africa has been hit with further challenges with shortages of drug stocks threatening to plunge one of the largest roll out plans on the African continent into crisis. The country’s antiretroviral treatment program currently provides treatment for over four million people however Statistics South Africa estimates that over seven million people are infected with virus. This shows massive gaps in the treatment regime which needs to be bridged urgently to avoid a catastrophe.
This is one of the reasons why an urgent paradigm shift is necessary in how the country and policy makers have been dealing with the epidemic. These were some of the sentiments shared by Activators like Nkosikhona “Uzzi” Mpungose, Esethu Sotheni, Lerato Morulane and Lisa Silwana who were delegates to the conference in various capacities. Morulane, Sotheni and Mpungose became torch bearers for network sustainability when they shared a platform with Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter Ndileka Mandela and Uzalo actor Nkosinathi Maphalala (Nay Maps) on independently organised platforms on the side-lines of the conference.
One of the core themes that Activators were championing was the eradication of stigma which is attached with living with the HIV virus, and more explicitly the rise in infections which they argue is no longer attached to a lack of information but more to do with behavioural change. Ndileka Mandela in her short address encouraged the incorporation of African values in how young people viewed their bodies and how men specifically viewed young women and believed that these are the key components needed to encourage a positive conversation around socio-behavioural change. “I speak with so much conviction because I know first hand the pain of the HIV virus because my own uncle died of Aids, this is why I am so intimately involved with the fight against new infections”.
The call by the Activate network for the establishment of a social, political and economic force is seemingly a brilliant approach to the rising calls for alternative ways of thinking in addressing South Africa’s challenges. The critical question that remains is whether the contribution of the activate network in high level conferences like the Aids conference will be enough to convince the mass body of activators that the future now rests in the network and that all efforts and energies should be directed towards sustaining it.