Framing Disease in Development: From Local to Global Narratives

This AIDS poster by the Bombay Hilltop Lions Club (a voluntary community needs and humanitarian organization) and the HIV/AIDS Information and Guidance Centre of Bombay was probably released around 1996 if not earlier. The inset shows a doctor wearing a mask saying “Sorry no”, highlighting the issue of physicians refusing to treat AIDS patients for moral reasons or fear of infection.
AIDS poster, Bombay Hilltop Lions Club (a voluntary community needs and humanitarian organization) and the HIV/AIDS Information and Guidance Centre of Bombay, c. 1996. The inset shows a doctor wearing a mask saying “Sorry no”, highlighting the issue of physicians refusing to treat AIDS patients for moral reasons or fear of infection.

Meg Kanazawa
University of Exeter

How do narratives of national AIDS epidemics draw from global discourses of health and development? In my own study of AIDS reportage in Indian medical journals, I argue that in the early years of the disease crisis, doctors initially made sense of the social and cultural dimensions of AIDS as it existed in India locally, through episodes of their individual interactions with HIV positive patients. They also gathered information on AIDS in a variety of cross-cultural settings to translate to an Indian context. However, as the epidemic progressed, the story of AIDS in India became increasingly politicized. Particularly around 1998, doctors began to critically engage with debates concerning the politics of unequal access to standard treatments in developing countries. Thus, by tracing the narrative of AIDS in Indian medical journals, we can see the moment of transition when the ‘global became problematic’.[1]

In the early years of the epidemic, doctors focused on episodic local cases relating to a variety of medical ethics issues. Articles focused on problems such as the appropriate attitudes of medical professionals when delivering diagnoses, whether HIV status should be determined in an arranged marriage, and how to obtain consent for collecting blood samples. Typically, the particulars of an AIDS related incident or news story in Delhi, Chennai or Pune is reported, then analyzed for what it illuminates about the medical profession and the delivery of healthcare in India. Because of the nature of transmission and the social stigmas particular to India associated with it, AIDS was treated as a prism, which revealed the shortcomings of medical care. Continue reading “Framing Disease in Development: From Local to Global Narratives”