Meaning-making of a group of South Africans in their experience of living with HIV: A phenomenological study

  • H G Pretorius
  • N Goldstein
  • S Stuart
Keywords: HIV/AIDS, meaning-making and HIV/AIDS in South Africa, disease-specific studies, biological, psychological and psychosocial experience of living with HIV/AIDS


With the primary focus of disease specific studies on the medical and biological transmission and progression of HIV/AIDS, the lived experience and meaning-making of individuals who live with this disease, is a literary scarcity. Similarly, the idiosyncratic meaning-making of middle class citizens diagnosed with HIV/AIDS appears largely unexplored. Addressing these concerns, the aim of this article is to explore the lived experience and meaningmaking of four middle-class South Africans diagnosed with HIV. Open-ended questions were formulated and used to elicit the rich idiosyncratic meaning of the complex experiences of the participants. The research indicates that HIV/AIDS is experienced as an intrusive violation of one's way of being-in-the-world in relation to one's self and others and involves a complex process consisting of overwhelming and intense feelings. The research also indicates that, in the experience of living with HIV/AIDS, a space is created for the rediscovery of spirituality, religion and compassion. Consequently, an appreciation for life, a need for belongingness, community, and also a transcendence of the mundane by positive embrace of one's time on earth is facilitated in the experience of living with this disease. This positive shift in what it means to live with HIV/AIDS in South Africa might have important implications for the helping professions and from which many therapeutic benefits might derive.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; meaning-making and HIV/AIDS in South Africa; disease-specific studies; biological, psychological and psychosocial experience of living with HIV/AIDS

Health SA Gesondheid Vol. 10 (1) 2005: pp. 41-51

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2071-9736
print ISSN: 1025-9848