Commenced in January 2007
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Edition: International
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Cultural Collisions, Ethics and HIV: On Local Values in a Globalized Medical World

Authors: Norbert W. Paul

Abstract:

In 1988, parts of the scientific community still heralded findings to support that AIDS was likely to remain largely a ‘gay disease’. The value-ladden terminology of some of the articles suggested that rectum and fragile urethra are not sufficiently robust to provide a barrier against infectious fluids, especially body fluids contaminated with HIV while the female vagina, would provide natural protection against injuries and trauma facilitating HIV-infection. Anal sexual intercourse was constituted not only as dangerous but also as unnatural practice, while penile-vaginal intercourse would follow natural design and thus be relatively safe practice minimizing the risk of HIV. Statements like the latter were not uncommon in the early times of HIV/AIDS and contributed to captious certainties and an underestimation of heterosexual risks. Pseudo-scientific discourses on the origin of HIV were linked to local and global health politics in the 1980ies. The pathways of infection were related to normative concepts like deviant, subcultural behavior, cultural otherness, and guilt used to target, tag and separate specific groups at risk from the ‘normal’ population. Controlling populations at risk became the top item on the agenda rather than controlling modes of transmission and the virus. Hence, the Thai strategy to cope with HIV/AIDS by acknowledging social and sexual practices as they were – not as they were imagined – has become a role model for successful prevention in the highly scandalized realm of sexually transmitted disease. By accepting the globalized character of local HIV-risk and projecting the risk onto populations which are neither particularly vocal groups nor vested with the means to strive for health and justice Thailand managed to culturally implement knowledge-based tools of prevention. This paper argues, that pertinent cultural collisions regarding our strategies to cope with HIV/AIDS are deeply rooted in misconceptions, misreadings and scandalizations brought about in the early history of HIV in the 1980ties. The Thai strategy is used to demonstrate how local values can be balanced against globalized health risk and used to effectuated prevention by which knowledge and norms are translated into local practices. Issues of global health and injustice will be addressed in the final part of the paper dealing with the achievability of health as a human right.

Keywords: Justice, bioethics, HIV, Global health

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