Jenny Trinitapoli, PhD
Director, Center for International Social Science Research (CISSR)
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology University of Chicago
The AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is now nearly 40 years old. After a long battle, the standard metrics have started to point to good news: new infections are down, prevalence has stabilized, life-saving anti-retrovirals are becoming widely available, and AIDS-related mortality has declined. Using panel data from Tsogolo la Thanzi study collected in Balaka, Malawi between 2009 and 2015, I argue that in the wake of pandemic AIDS, an epidemic of uncertainty persists. AIDS-related uncertainty, I argue, is measurable, pervasive, and impervious to biomedical solutions. In Malawi, the consequences of uncertainty are salient to multiple domains of life including relationship stability, fertility, health, and well-being. Even as HIV is transformed from a progressive, fatal infection to a chronic and manageable condition, the accompanying epidemic of uncertainty remains central to understanding the demographic future of this part of the world.
Dr. Trinitapoli’s training and background is in two areas: social demography & the sociology of religion. Bridging these two fields, her work features the demographer’s characteristic concern with data and denominators and an insistence on connecting demographic processes to questions of meaning. She asks questions about data quality.
She has written extensively on the role of religion in the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, but religion permeates her research, even when it isn’t present as a variable. Since 2008 she have been the principal investigator of Tsogolo la Thanzi (TLT)—an ongoing longitudinal study of young adults in Malawi. Demographers use terms like “relationship instability” and “fertility trajectories,” but very plainly: TLT asks how young adults negotiate relationships, sex, and childbearing with a severe AIDS epidemic swirling around them. The TLT research centre, located in Balaka (Southern Malawi), is staffed by over two dozen talented locals and supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.