23 March 2020 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
New book on HIV sets frame for public-health crisis
Dr Katinka de Wet says activism played an important role in the early years of the HIV and Aids pandemic.

The launch of the book, The Normalisation of the HIV and Aids Epidemic in South Africa by Dr Katinka de Wet from the UFS Department of Sociology, situates the book’s focus perfectly within the current global health crisis.

“The framing of this book is relevant to the emergence of any epidemic or pandemic, as it asks questions on how the disease is framed but also what the medical, sociopolitical, economic consequences and actions should be,” says Dr De Wet, a senior lecturer and medical sociologist at the University of the Free State.

The book was launched on 12 March 2020 at the Sasol Library of the UFS.

When thinking about a public-health crisis coronavirus comes to mind and the book serves as a reminder to the world that the HIV/Aids crisis has been with us for four decades.

“In every public health crisis we ask: ‘how do we respond to the disease? What covert issues does the disease bring to the front, which is what sociologists do?’,” says Dr De Wet. “These are the questions you would ask about Covid-19, but HIV/Aids has been with us for more than four decades.”

Understanding the disease
“This book tracks what makes HIV exceptional. There was a very specific manner in which governments initially responded to the disease,” Dr De Wet says.

American anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes pointed out that: “HIV was initially framed as a crisis in human rights with obvious public-health ramifications instead of a crisis in public health with obvious consequences for human rights.”

With the emergence of the HIV virus and the subsequent disease there was a new approach to classic responses which are normally associated with public-health crises such as quarantine and mass testing.

To contextualise the normalisation of HIV and Aids mostly came about with the tremendous strides made in bio-medicalisation through the general availability of antiretrovirals.

In this book Dr De Wet also pays homage to the activism the HIV pandemic engendered. “The vibrancy that went with HIV and Aids activism will prevent the disease from becoming another sub-tropical disease.”

The groundwork and research which went into The Normalisation of the HIV and Aids Epidemic in South Africa Dr De Wet exemplifies that “academic endeavours have to extend beyond the confines of chosen topics for it to have a wider relevance and impact in thinking about problems that are worth investigating”.

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