Original Articles

Wits University's response to HIV/AIDS: flagship programme or 'tramp steamer'?


HIV/AIDS is a threat to the creation of human capital and development prospects in southern Africa and South Africa. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is a well-regarded institution of higher education in Johannesburg. This paper outlines the university's qualified failure to implement its HIV/AIDS Policy through a comprehensive set of programmes. However, as we describe the decommissioning of this potential flagship programme to a 'tramp steamer,' we identify a number of challenges to the policy's implementation: the necessary scope of an effective programme, the limits to existing capacity, and the need to secure funding. We suggest that the key to failure of HIV/AIDS programmes at Wits lies with the configurations of power within the university and the funding logic that militates against institutions of higher education assuming the high cost of HIV/AIDS programmes. Such institutions receive funding and fees irrespective of whether or not students complete their education as HIV-positive or negative, are aware of their HIV status or not, and — if HIV-positive — are enrolled in a disease management programme or not. This financial logic, in which universities bear the cost of student HIV/AIDS programmes but receive little short-term benefit, poses a threat to the region's future human capital. While institutions of higher education may well recognise the moral imperative of responding to HIV/AIDS for the benefit of society, current funding models do not support this. Four suggestions are put forward to address this unfortunate political economy configuration; they involve changing funding formulas, securing direct funding from business as the primary recipient of the human capital created, soliciting international donor funding, and direct ring-fenced funding offered by government.

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