Aiding the Epidemic: The effects of PrEP, PEP, and TasP on the Historical Stigmatization of HIV and AIDS

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Haverford College. Department of Anthropology
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Since their formal recognition in the 1980’s, both HIV and AIDS have had a global impact on many aspects of life. The unknown nature of HIV led to a social and cultural marginalization of individuals with either condition that was built upon fear and anxiety. Biologically, two fronts were presented: first, both challenged our confidence and reliance on antibiotics as HIV and AIDS, cannot be currently cured with them, creating a technological race to be able to eliminate both; the other front is the opposite, both set a standard in comparing other diseases or infections to the grand scale of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Fortunately, now in 2017, medical advancements have been made in treating and prolonging the lives of people living with either HIV or AIDS and people who may be potentially exposed to HIV. New antiretroviral medications have been developed to help prevent exposure and may even eliminate the virus after exposure to HIV. While the HIV and AIDS epidemic may not be as biologically lethal as it once was, its social ramifications remain in society, and now the question that remains is will new antiretroviral medication help change and replace society’s past and present stigmatization of affected individuals with one of empathy and understanding? Through a historical analysis of social and cultural stigma around HIV and AIDS within the LGBT community, this thesis will observe whether there has been a shift in how stigma is perceived with the introduction of new antiretroviral medications, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and Treatment as Prevention (TasP). While it will acknowledge both homosexual and heterosexual means of transmission, this thesis will specifically focus on how stigma has affected the LGBT community. The foundation of this thesis will focus on literature and media, within the United States of America, during the 1980’s, which is the time that HIV and AIDS came to be recognized and feared. To trace this timeline, modern representations from the 2000’s and 2010’s will be used to present a shift in the understanding of the nature of both HIV and AIDS. The modern forms of representation will include media, personal interviews and films. Through this thesis, by no means, shape or form, is it a critique on individuals living with HIV or AIDS. This thesis does also not attempt to present a definite answer as to how to end the stigma towards individuals living with either HIV or AIDS, but it aims to allow the reader to know how society and culture gave influenced one’s opinion. This is key as it highlights how not much is done for the resilience towards stigma, even though medicine attempts to highlight achievements primarily through a biological perspective. I chose to undergo this because I believe that there has been a primary focus on the biological effect of both HIV and AIDS, which is by no means a negative factor; however, I wish to bring awareness that I believe have changed from when HIV and AIDS first appeared. I have also chosen to focus on this topic, as I believe, it is still a taboo subject even with the advancements that have been made. In bringing awareness to this topic, it is my goal that any reader may learn to recognize the impact that HIV and AIDS have had on interpreting how medicine is perceived and how people may be reduced to a body that is simply characterized by its biological attributes. In reminding others about the history of HIV and AIDS and tracing how each have been perceived, which is by no means an easy task, and I do hope this work is built upon in future generations, each respective, yet intertwined history emphasizes how medicine and society are interdisciplinary factors that can help change the biomedical model.