Women's experience of HIV as a chronic illness in South Africa : hard-earned lives, biographical disruption and moral careerWomen's experience of HIV as a chronic illness in South Africa : hard-earned lives, biographical disruption and moral career
Faculty of Social Sciences. Sociology
Research Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (CELLO)
Sociology of health and illness. - London
38(2016):4, p. 521-542
University of Antwerp
This article presents findings from a longitudinal qualitative study (48 in-depth interviews with 12 women on antiretroviral treatment (ART)) exploring the experience of living with HIV as a chronic illness in South Africa by applying the structural and interactionist perspectives on chronic illness. The structural perspective indicates that the illness experience needs to be contextualised within the wider framework of the women's hard-earned lives: throughout the interviews, the women tended to refuse singularising HIV/AIDS and continuously framed the illness within the context of general hardship and adversity. Employing an interactionist perspective, the repeated interviews demonstrated the partial applicability of the concept of biographical disruption to the illness experience: most women experienced feelings of denial and disbelief upon diagnosis, but the availability of ART clearly mitigated the impact of HIV on their biographies. In addition, our findings demonstrate that the interaction between structural aspects, (stigmatising) social relations, and the illness (and its treatment) determines the never-ending cycle of identity appraisals, revisions and improvements, rendering the moral career of the HIV-positive women on ART a continuous work in progress.