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02 April, 2010

Thesis: Shah Jamal Alam, Understanding Social Complexity in the Context of HIV/AIDS: A Case Study in Rural South Africa

Understanding Social Complexity in the Context of HIV/AIDS:  A Case Study in Rural South Africa
(Shah Jamal Alam's Doctoral Thesis) 
Available at: http://cfpm.org/cpmrep208.html 
This thesis aims at understanding the impact of HIV/AIDS and socioeconomic stressors in Sub-Saharan Africa. We present an agent-based simulation model of the social impacts of HIV/AIDS in villages in the Sekhukhune district of the Limpopo province in South Africa. AIDS in the Sub-Saharan region has not only affected individual’s health but its prevalence has a long-term implication on the economic development of the society. The impact of the disease relates to other stresses, such as food insecurity, high climate variability, market fluctuations, and variations in support from government and non-government sources. The model developed in this thesis focuses on decisions made at the individual and household level. The model development process is driven by evidence, which is made available through our project partners at the Stockholm Environment Institute (Oxford) and other external sources. The model has gone through several iterations, especially regarding agent's decision procedures. This whole modelling process has resulted in the modellers being able to ask new questions about the underlying problem, with successive iterations. It has contributed to identifying the gaps in the existing knowledge of the domain and thus helping to understand the problem with better precision. Simulation results reported in this thesis suggest a number of hypotheses concerning social and public health policies. They also suggest that agent-based social simulation is a potential tool in better understanding of this complex interplay of issues. Another contribution of this research is capturing the notion of overlapping social networks at different levels in modelling human social systems. One of the implications of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is that it increases the burden on traditional support networks or safety nets. This thesis looks towards techniques for identifying structural changes in dynamical networks that may be useful in better describing this effect.