With the number of South Africans infected with HIV/AIDS soon exceeding 6 million, care and support for the people infected and affected is becoming increasingly more important.
Most care and support is carried out in the communities, by community member s within a highly stigmatised environment with little government support. It is therefore crucial to strengthen community capacity to provide care and support for the ill. Previous studies have focused on individuals, families, caregivers and organisation s providing care separately with little focus on how to these work together. In this study, we explore the levels, elements and mechanisms of social capital in relation to care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. Social capital is defined as 'the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively'. We examine the three forms of social bonding, bridging and linking at the levels of individuals, families, community based organizations, and government/external agents. According to our knowled ge, this is the first study that will be done addressing all three levels of social capital within an HIV/AIDS context. The longitudinal study takes place in a rural poor community in KwaZulu-Natal. We use a multi-method approach within a framework of par ticipatory action research and ethnography. To conduct the fieldwork, we will recruit local people as well as Zulu-speaking students. The study moves through stages of exploring, analyzing, acting on and evaluating aspects of social capital in relation to care and support in the area. At the end of the study, we aim at creating a local base where agencies and activities can be monitored, assisted and strengthened. This would promote sustainability of the project. An additional outcome of the study is the development of a model to strengthen social capital and improve care and support in similar communities.