On November 29 and 30th, 2007 the U-Michigan advanced HIV/AIDS research group hosted southern African colleagues to review new data on the HIV crises, the reach of HIV testing and anti-retroviral therapy (ART), patient tracking systems, and the continuing challenge of translating new research into policymaking. Recent data from the region underscore the continuing high rates of HIV infection (see chart below), and participants acknowledged that efforts to prevent new infections have failed. Warren Parker, Director of the Centre for AIDS Development, Research, and Evaluation (CADRE) in Johannesburg, emphasized that part of that failure reflects the fact that “the epidemic is, in real terms, extremely heterogeneous as a product of the diverse economic, social, and behavioral factors that underpin it.”

    The conference highlighted such heterogeneity in risk and public response. Using the latest national (HSRC) survey, Khangelani Zuma from the Human Science Research Council, South Africa described how the HIV rates vary between provinces, with the highest rates in urban, informal settlements. Papers showed that females are more likely to get an HIV test and to know about treatment, but they also have higher death rates for all causes as young adults. While such data suggest strategies for intervention, Parker emphasized the entrenched difficulties of moving good data into policy.

    One of the singular challenges in HIV/AIDS response is establishing a trajectory between research findings and the appropriate development of policies and practices. Surprisingly, the mechanisms for achieving this are often obscure. This is partly due to statistical and other findings being competitively contested and differentially legitimated. This conference has illustrated the possibilities of triangulation of data, introspective reflections on findings, and the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration. There are no standard strategies, and we need to be committed to evidence-based systematic action.

    The conference was sponsored by the Center for International and Comparative Studies, the U-M Center for Global Health, and the William Davidson Institute.