1976:291). AIDS has become a biological and social phenomenon of great importance. One thing that distinguishes the situation with AIDS today from prior epidemics is the mass media. Today information, whether right or wrong, is rapidly disseminated worldwide to millions of people. One researcher's theory or offhand comment today is transformed into a fact in tomorrow's headlines. Cultural beliefs and attitudes influence the scientific collection and interpretation of data, which are then viewed through the eyes of reporters. "News," by definition, focuses on things that have not happened before, are not widely known, and are perhaps extraordinary. In the public mind, the rare event may be perceived as commonplace. Misinterpretation and improper translation of technical terms adds to the confusion. Thus, for the average person, AIDS becomes a mysterious and deadly plague that is threatening society. Rarely heard are the facts that HIV is difficult to transmit and infection easy to prevent.

For an epidemiologist, AIDS is a new disease as well as a new way of thinking about disease. Its discovery and analysis represents great achievements in virology, oncology, and immunology. At the same time it is a tremendous public health threat and challenge to medical technology. Some believe that a promising cure or vaccine will eventually be found, and that current efforts to alter behavior as a means of controlling transmission will no longer be needed. The American cultural heritage with its emphasis on the triumph of science over nature creates and reinforces such beliefs. However, an understanding of the evolution of disease reveals this attitude to be shortsighted. The appearance of HIV is a lesson in the evolution of disease. It is likely that infectious agents will be found to be the ultimate cause of a great many diseases for which etiology is now unclear. These agents will continue to adapt and evolve and evade whatever technological innovations are thrown at them.

We are now moving onto a new world in which the natural history of disease is being rapidly distorted, and we must be always alert to look beyond the immediate effect of some new procedure to see what the logical outcome of its large scale use will be. Antimicrobial drugs, like measures to prevent the spread of infection or immunization procedures, are potent weapons, but to the biologist they are merely new factors introduced into the environment within which the microorganisms of infection must struggle to survive. We must never underestimate the potentialities of our enemies. ( Burnet and White, 1972:185)

We may cure AIDS, but we won't eradicate infectious disease. At best, we can keep pace, reduce suffering, and begin to examine the process by which perceptions of disease engender prejudice, social disruption, and culture change.


NOTES
1.
In a survey of knowledge of AIDS in Rwanda, six out of twelve persons who responded to a question regarding the origin of AIDS said it came from America (Feldman et al., 1987:98).

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Culture and AIDS
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - Introduction: Culture and Aids 1
  • Chapter Two - Aids in Cultural, Historic, and Epidemiologic Context 9
  • Notes 23
  • References 24
  • Chapter Three - the Sick Role, Stigma, and Pollution: the Case of Aids 29
  • Notes 42
  • References 43
  • Chapter Four - Assessing Viral, Parasitic, and Sociocultural Cofactors Affecting Hiv-1 Transmission in Rwanda 45
  • Note 51
  • References 51
  • Chapter Five - Aids and the Pathogenesis of Metaphor 55
  • Note 64
  • References 65
  • Chapter Six - Aids and Accusation: Haiti, Haitians, and the Geography of Blame 67
  • Notes 88
  • References 89
  • Chapter Seven - Prostitute Women and the Ideology of Work in London 93
  • Notes 108
  • References 109
  • Chapter Eight Minority Women and Aids: Culture, Race, and Gender 111
  • Notes 128
  • References 131
  • Chapter Nine Language and Aids 137
  • Notes 157
  • References 158
  • Chapter Ten Aids and Obituaries: the Perpetuation of Stigma in the Press 159
  • References 168
  • Chapter Eleven Sex, Politics, and Guilt: A Study of Homophobia and the Aids Phenomenon 169
  • Note 181
  • References 181
  • Chapter Twelve Increasing the Cost of Living: Class and Exploitation in the Delivery of Social Services to Persons with Aids 183
  • Notes 198
  • References 201
  • Chapter Thirteen Postscript: Anthropology and Aids 205
  • Note 208
  • References 208
  • Index 209
  • ABOUT THE EDITOR AND CONTRIBUTORS 215
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