Healing Traditions: Alternative Medicine and the Health Professions

By Bonnie Blair O’Connor | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Vernacular Health Care Responses
to HIV and AIDS

Sicknesses that do not respond well to conventional medical care, or for which few conventional treatment options exist, frequently motivate people to develop purposive self-care routines and to explore a range of forms of potential treatment. Serious illnesses with poor prognoses may especially quickly lead people to expand their health care strategies beyond the bounds of conventional medicine, in an effort to multiply their therapeutic options. Such actions may be undertaken regardless of prior knowledge of or exposure to other treatment systems (Hufford 1988a), and indeed often include periods of research and concerted inquiry aimed at discovering options of which the interested parties had previously been unaware. These selfdesigned health care regimens may be quite complex, incorporating information and practices from widely diverse sources. The more serious the health threat and the more refractory to treatment, the greater is the number of additional therapeutic measures likely to be brought to bear.

As a devastating disease with a poor long-term prognosis, and often with minimal response to a medical armamentarium that is still quite limited, HIV/AIDS1 is exemplary of the kind of health crisis that promotes the widest possible range of vernacular treatment responses. This chapter reviews the HIV/AIDS alternative and complementary therapies movement which is centered in the organized gay male community in the United States. This movement encompasses the broadest spectrum of nonconventional therapeutic measures used in all stages of HIV infection, and provides a detailed example of the use of vernacular healing methods by a population whose socioeconomic profile is that of a “mainstream” patient group: middle-class, well-educated, and familiar with conventional medicine.2

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