African Journal of AIDS Research

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South African HIV/AIDS programming overlooks migration, urban livelihoods, and informal workplaces

Jo Vearey, Marlise Richter, Lorena Núñez, Khangelani Moyo


South Africa has the largest population of people living with HIV globally and is associated with high population mobility. The majority of migrants move in  search of improved livelihood opportunities, and many who migrate (both internally and across borders) move into urban areas, often through peripheral informal settlements where HIV prevalence is shown to be double that of urban  formal areas. While the relationship between migration and the spread of HIV is  acknowledged as complex, the context of migration may place individuals at increased risk for acquiring HIV. Studies have demonstrated the long-wave  impact of HIV and AIDS on livelihood activities and, more recently, on patterns of migration. Many migrants engage in livelihood strategies situated within the urban ‘informal economy’; these informal workplaces are often overlooked in  global and national legislation governing workplace responses to health and HIV  and AIDS. This study draws on existing research and limited primary data to explore the implications of HIV/AIDS programming for diverse migrant groups labouring in informal workplaces in Johannesburg, South Africa. We describe three case studies: waste-pickers at a dumpsite in a peripheral urban informal settlement; barmen and cleaners working in inner-city hotels where sex is also sold; and, migrants engaged in informal livelihood activities who are also  members of burial societies. Given the importance of varied informal livelihood  activities for diverse migrant groups, particularly in urban areas of South Africa, we propose that the national HIV/AIDS response can and should engage with internal and cross-border migrants in informal workplaces — which is in line with the principle of universal access and will strengthen the national response. Especially, we point out the potential for burial societies to provide an entry point for HIV/AIDS programming that targets migrant groups involved in the informal economy of South African cities.

Keywords: burial societies, economy, health, informal sector, labour migration, migrants, sex work, urban poverty

African Journal of AIDS Research 2011, 10(supplement): 381–391