The appearance of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s had a fundamental impact on Western and non-Western societies alike. From its onset, the infection forced people to question and rethink ideas about health and risk, and about the nature of infectious disease and their causes. No other disease phenomenon has questioned the health sciences as fundamentally as HIV/AIDS, or exposed so dramatically the weaknesses in existing health care systems. The fast-growing number of people living with HIV has also posed urgent questions about the nature of humanity, notions of care and empathy, the relationship and interdependence of individuals, and their mutual responsibilities as members of local communities and citizens of nations.
From the beginning, HIV/AIDS was an intensely political issue that questioned human rights and the foundations of western democracies. It dragged people onto the streets to fight for their rights, to combat ignorance, prejudice and homophobia, and to resist attempts by political leaderships to downplay or ignore the seriousness of the infection. In the 1980s and early 1990s the impact of this new disease on Western culture seemed so significant that it was perceived by many as a ‘a crisis of representation itself, a crisis over the entire framing of knowledge about the human body’ (Simon Watney).
Since then, particularly through the development of antiretroviral drugs, which do not cure the infection but prolong the life of those living with HIV, the impact of the disease is felt less severely by the majority of those living in West. However, HIV/AIDS is now pandemic. Since 1981 it has killed more than 25 million people worldwide, with its demographic and social-cultural impact most acutely felt on the African and Asian continent. The sheer number of victims in these areas of the globe can lead to the misleading assumption that HIV/AIDS no longer poses a significant problem in the Western world. This belief, particularly widespread among younger people, ignores the fact that HIV/AIDS still affects a considerable number of the Western population. Moreover, it continues to challenge the medical sciences and to question both democratic values, such as equality and human rights, and public health policies.
A Witness Seminar and a Conference will address these issues - please see the links to the left.