Dr Beth Vale
I am a writer, researcher and social development consultant, whose work lives at the intersections of advocacy, academia and public policy research. As a health anthropologist, I’ve spent much of my career advocating for a more human approach to public health and social policy. Even with the very best technologies, statistical models, and implementation plans; for any intervention to succeed, it must land and live in complex socio-political worlds, among ordinary people whose voices are rarely heard in policymaking. Over the years, I’ve been committed to driving evidence-based practice and advocacy, attuned to social and political complexities, and oriented to social justice.
As a social development consultant, my role has often been to conduct, synthesise, and ultimately transform, research into actionable insights for policy and programming. Over the years, I’ve combined desktop and primary research to produce reports, policy analyses, press pieces, advocacy strategies, programmatic recommendations, and communication materials. I am also regularly involved in translating technical, lengthy reports into publicly-accessible – often multi-media – outputs. The organisations I have consulted for have spanned NPOs, private sector, and international development organisations. Their focus areas include healthcare, education, youth employment, development, and planning.
Community Health Work/ Lay Caregivers: In 2011/2012, I conducted in-depth ethnographic research, exploring how community health workers (CHWs) in Cape Town informal settlements negotiated between policy expectations and the daily demands of supporting patients on HIV-treatment. As mass HIV-treatment collided with their coming-of-age, these young women were also crafting care work as a route to survival, social mobility and status. This sparked a special interest in researching and advocating around women’s (unpaid and poorly-paid) care work, on which much of the country’s economy and health system depends. In 2011, I worked as an intern for the Treatment Action Campaign, developed and facilitated a bodymapping workshop for community health workers, produced a scoping review of community health worker policy for UNAIDS, and helped prepare Kheth’Impilo’s community health worker training for accreditation. Since then, I’ve conducted further research and analyses on community health worker policy and practice. This has been used to support Grow Great Campaign’s CHW strategy; and has produced a range of academic, press, and popular publications both on CHW working conditions, as well as their role in epidemic preparedness.
Adolescent HIV/ Gender and HIV/ Chronic treatment support: Between 2012-2026, my research explored experiences of socio-medical care among HIV-positive adolescents and their families, with a particular focus on bolstering adolescent antiretroviral adherence, and understanding the burdens and tactics of young women. This formed part of an internationally funded, multi-methods project, Mzantsi Wakho, which worked with NPOs, government departments and international development organisations to shape evidence-based intervention for HIV-positive adolescents.
Chronic Illness/ Multi-morbidity/ Food & Health: I am currently completing my first book project, exploring the recent social history of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Karoo, through an ethnography of chronic illness. This work investigates everyday experiences of South Africa’s non-communicable disease epidemics, as well as how patients and health workers are seeking to negotiate long-term illness amid tight constraints. In addition to a book manuscript, this work has informed a series of briefs for the Hospital Asssociation of South Africa; and a presentation to the Actuarial Society of South Africa.
Whether in the form of policy briefs, academic papers or funding proposals – at the core of all my work is an intention tell stories for social impact. My work in health and social development has produced short films, public presentations, Op Eds., blogs, speculative fiction, artwork and slam poetry. I also regularly collaborate with artists, producing panels, performances and workshops to explore health and dis-ease.
Radical participation and collaboration have always been at the centre of my research and practice. This has given me rich experience in convening and facilitating dialogue. Throughout my career, I have designed, convened and chaired panels, workshops, courses and conferences. Participants have ranged from policymakers, researchers and business leaders, to lay health workers, union members, students and adolescents.
For a list of publications and presentations, click here.