Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention

Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention

Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention

Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention

Synopsis

There is an inherently powerful and complex paradox underlying HIV/AIDS prevention--between the focus on collective advocacy mobilized to combat global HIV/AIDS and the staggeringly disproportionate rates of HIV/AIDS in many places. In Treating AIDS, Thurka Sangaramoorthy examines the everyday practices of HIV/AIDS prevention in the United States from the perspective of AIDS experts and Haitian immigrants in South Florida. Although there is worldwide emphasis on the universality of HIV/AIDS as a social, political, economic, and biomedical problem, developments in HIV/AIDS prevention are rooted in and focused exclusively on disparities in HIV/AIDS morbidity and mortality framed through the rubric of race, ethnicity, and nationality. Everyone is at equal risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, Sangaramoorthy notes, but the ways in which people experience and manage that risk--and the disease itself--is highly dependent on race, ethnic identity, sexuality, gender, immigration status, and other notions of "difference."

Sangaramoorthy documents in detail the work of AIDS prevention programs and their effect on the health and well-being of Haitians, a transnational community long plagued by the stigma of being stereotyped in public discourse as disease carriers. By tracing the ways in which public knowledge of AIDS prevention science circulates from sites of surveillance and regulation, to various clinics and hospitals, to the social worlds embraced by this immigrant community, she ultimately demonstrates the ways in which AIDS prevention programs help to reinforce categories of individual and collective difference, and how they continue to sustain the persistent and pernicious idea of race and ethnicity as risk factors for the disease.

Excerpt

Standing on the outdoor platform of the Metrorail stop at the University of Miami on a blisteringly hot day, I was struck by a large black, white, and red poster (see figure 1.1). The poster depicted numerous celebrities, scientists, political leaders, and social activists standing and walking barefoot in graduated rows of concrete blocks. Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Will Smith, Zackie Achmat, and Elizabeth Taylor, among others, were shown stepping into cement and leaving a footprint—a metaphor for their commitment to the global fight against HIV/AIDS. But the familiar faces were not what drew me to the poster. I was captivated by the message “we all have AIDS,” which was written in large white and red capital letters across the bodies of those pictured. A much smaller phrase in the lower left corner completed the message: “if one of us does.” “We all have AIDS” dwarfed both the final phrase and the human images.

I saw this sign repeatedly for several months in early 2006 in Miami’s Metrorail system. The poster, it turned out, was part of what was reportedly the largest public service multimedia campaign about HIV/AIDS ever launched in the United States. The initiative was a collaborative effort between the fashion designer Kenneth Cole, chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), and KnowAIDS, a multimedia campaign funded by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Viacom, and the CBS Corporation. The KnowAIDS campaign was a multiyear public service messaging initiative started in 2003 to “educate the general population about the impact of AIDS globally, and to promote prevention and testing among higher-risk populations, including young people, African Americans, Latinos, women, and men who have sex with men” (PRNewswire 2003).

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