Towards Bettering HIV/AIDS Understandings: A Phenomenographic-Comparison of the Conceptions of HIV-Positive University Students in Finland and Nigeria

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Thesis by Emmanuel Okwara for his Doctorate in Teacher of Education, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, 2015

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Abstract

The disease's challenge is not limited to students already diagnosed with the disease, but also to students in limbo (students who do not know their status), because about 50% of those living with HIV do not know their status (UNAIDS 2012). However, voluntary HIV screening is unpopular, probably due to fear and gross misconceptions. Based on the presumption that besides its health and educational impacts, the disease also influences the productivity and future goals of students, this study investigated and compared the conceptions of HIV-positive university students in Finland and Nigeria in search of not only the negative, but also the positive meanings of living with the disease, with the aim of bettering HIV/AIDS understandings.

The study is primarily approached through phenomenography. Seven individuals participated in the study (three Finns and four Nigerians) through in-depth and e-mail interviews. The outcomes are described and compared under 7 main categories, 26 sub-categories and 300 themes based on the similarities and qualitative differences in the participants conceptions. To further illustrate the outcomes, Concept Maps were used at the end of each main category to separately show the Finnish and Nigerian participants responses within each category. In addition, tables of comparison were used in Appendixes one to seven to compare the Finnish and Nigerian participants conceptions thematically and also in relation to the results of earlier studies. Subsequently, propositions in text format were used in Appendix eight to present the concept map outcomes in a different light.

The findings reveal that although the negative effects are much more noticeable, the positive impacts are increasing. They add to refuting what we already know about living with the disease, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. In view of the many benefits of living with HIV, as illuminated by this study, the current situation is unlike the past, as today living with HIV does more good than harm especially in terms of motivating positive and healthful living. The comparison of the two groups reveals no wide gap between the Finnish and Nigerian participants conceptions; nevertheless, while the Finnish participants are slightly better informed about HIV/AIDS, their Nigerian counterparts are more open and positive about their conditions.

Due to the nature of its findings, the implications of this study are many; the most outstanding of which is that it may positively and healthfully transform readers. By bringing into the spotlight the unpopular positive sides of living with HIV (not AIDS), PLWHA could further be strengthened to cope with the disease, and the fears of students in limbo due to misconceptions could be reduced, which may motivate them to voluntarily participate in HIV screening. Furthermore, the study may contribute to enabling HIV/AIDS organisations to better tailor their services towards meeting the needs of their subjects. School authorities could equally be motivated to make school environments more HIV/AIDS friendly. The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and similar ministries in other countries may also find in these outcomes reasons to push for changes in HIV/AIDS policies.