The Centre for the Study of AIDS (CSA) was started in 1999 by Mary Crewe, a former academic from Wits University who had worked for 10 years in an integrative HIV&AIDS programme in Johannesburg, the renowned Esselen Street Health Centre.
The vision of the CSA has always been to understand the complexities of the HIV&AIDS epidemic(s) in South Africa, informed by the best social science in Africa and beyond.
Located at the University of Pretoria, the CSA has helped the University to think strategically about HIV&AIDS, mainstream HIV&AIDS into its core business, and ensure that students and staff are prepared personally, professionally and intellectually to deal with HIV&AIDS as it has unfolded in South African society. One aspect of this has been the establishment of, in partnership with the University, government and the Foundation for Professional Development, a student-focused testing, treatment and support service.
Using the University as a base, the CSA has developed a range of interventions to address the social drivers, and the social consequences, of HIV&AIDS. These have included community-level rights, gender, stigma, sexuality and youth programmes; collaborations with African universities on their prevention and support initiatives; work with African parliamentarians with oversight responsibilities; and consultations with a range of international organisations on policies and programmes.
Informed by this practical engagement, and because of its intrinsic value, the CSA has also focused its energies on research, debate and theory development in an epidemic which has often been met with urgent and pragmatic responses first, with insufficient opportunities to reflect on practice and understand unintended consequences of interventions, especially large-scale public-health interventions. Some of the CSA’s research has been conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights at the University.
In challenging the status quo, the CSA has not been afraid to ask difficult questions, challenge orthodoxy and make mistakes. In a world of indicators, outcomes and log frames, the CSA has been willing to challenge the randomised control trial-informed paradigm, which has set the agenda for HIV&AIDS interventions.
As a part of its intellectual engagement, the CSA has developed links with a range of national, regional, continental and international researchers and academics. This informal, and sometimes formal, network of thinkers has helped to solidify the core CSA belief that integrated approaches to HIV&AIDS prevention and care must address the complex web of individual, social and structural factors which inform risk and frame impact.
Through all its work, the CSA is shaped by a social justice philosophy, understanding that rights, citizenship and collective action are key to any response. As it looks to its next decade, the CSA aims to remain relevant, innovative and fearless.