The study explores the role and contribution of education in developing a localized and relevant HIV/AIDS prevention strategy through a multi-voiced approach, involving the educational institutions, as well as the traditional leaders, community-members, including parents. The study comprised all public schools in one Zambian province from 2002-2008. The study explores, among other factors, the role of traditional culture in mitigating and exacerbating the spread of the disease.
Zambia was one of the countries hardest hit by the HIV/AIDs epidemic, and one of the few countries in the region that, in 2002, had a clear policy on the role of education in fighting the epidemic. Through the process of developing and implementing a learner-centered interactive HIV/AIDS education program in the province. based upon MOE`s HIV/AIDS policies and strategies, syllabi, and teachers guides, and at the same time emphasizing the broader community as a point of departure.
The qualitative and interpretivist research was conducted within a constructivist grounded theoretical approach. The study applies comprehensive and multilayered perspectives while utilizing a broad range of methods. Documentary analyses, structured and semi-structured interviews, in depth conversations with traditional and educational leaders, teachers, parents and pupils, were all carried out during the period of the study. Nvivo, a computer-supported data analysis tool was used to support the process of categorizing the qualitative data and the study applied Cultural- and Historical Activity Theory for analytic purposes.
The study revealed the mismatch between the decentralized, national HIV/AIDS prevention education approach, as stated in the policy documents and the global UNAIDS, centralized and cross-sectoral strategies favored by the Zambian government. The uncoordinated efforts did not reach the grassroots level, where professionals, at district and school level, perceived and applied policies in highly different ways, if at all reaching students and the communities.
The main categories of drivers of the epidemic were of socio-cultural and economic character, e.g. polygamy, sexual cleansing, local healing, gender inequality and poverty, sexual violence, multiple concurrent sexual partners and prostitution, but there were also variety of local drivers, depending upon context.
When analyzing the participatory approaches of the HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, predominantly, at the school-community level, the findings revealed that the traditional leaders, being legitimate leaders in their kingdoms, and the custodians of culture and traditions, were found to be gate openers to promote behavioral change and cultural transformation in their villages.
The traditional leaders worked hand in hand with the schools and the villagers. Their involvement legitimated that discourses and HIV/AIDS prevention actions were taken at school as well as within their own chiefdom. Utilizing their traditional leadership structures, the chiefs sustained their cultural rites, e.g. cleansing, in order to chase away the evil spirits, by turning the rites into practices that do no put people at risk for contracting HIV. Particularly at the global and state level, culture has been seen as drivers of the epidemic. The study revealed that the traditional leaders used their role as significant others, became gate-openers, using their legitimate role as custodians of culture to transform cultural rites and practices.