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Glob Public Health. 2014;9(1-2):124-43. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2013.879670. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

'Low-hanging fruit': counting and accounting for children in PEPFAR-funded HIV/AIDS programmes in South Africa.

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a Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology , Stellenbosch University , Matieland , South Africa.


The article traces the social life of a policy that aimed to define and circumscribe the ambiguous and contested category of 'orphaned and vulnerable children' (or OVC) in South Africa at the height of the 'emergency response' to HIV/AIDS. Drawing on several months of institutional ethnographic research conducted over the course of five years with South African organisations receiving funding from the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to provide services to 'OVC', the project interrogates the influence of governmental forms of counting and accounting on health policy and practice in South Africa. Focusing on the experiences of one organisation, the article describes a process of policy 'translation' typified by a series of disconnects between the intentions of a policy and the exigencies of implementation, structured by the ambiguous and flexible nature of the 'OVC' category. In this context, the article argues that the uncertainty produced by the implementation of the guidelines was not simply an artefact of a poorly designed policy, but rather signals an underlying epistemological tension in the practice of 'global health', in which quantitative metrics designed for monitoring and evaluation are often incapable of approximating the complexities of everyday life.

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