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The social costs of the AIDS epidemic

The social costs of the AIDS epidemic are considerable and cannot be calculated fully. Ten years ago, few people had any idea that this health problem even existed. Today, public concern is high, with behavioral changes urged and undertaken, medical costs increasing, public health organizations geared to offer advice and assistance, research funded, and thousands of sufferers dying or dead from the disease.

Kanouse et al. (1991) report that 86 percent of their respondents personally knew someone, living or dead, who had AIDS, and among those who knew at least one such person, the median number was seven. This was from a sample of gay and bisexual men and showed that the epidemic has reached deeply into their lives. The researchers state that the experience of loss on such a scale raises the possibility of mental health consequences such as posttraumatic stress and depression for large numbers of men affected by the epidemic (p. xii).

ScheperHughes and Locke (1991) note that societal and cultural responses to dreaded diseases such as cancer and AIDS create a second illness, or "double," involving layers of stigma, rejection, fear, and exclusion. While the symptoms of the illness are biological entities, they are also coded metaphors that speak to the contradictory aspects of social life, expressing sentiments, feelings, and ideas that must otherwise be kept hidden. The authors feel that this harks back to the 1972 model of T. Parsons of sickness as deviance and to the understanding of Karl Marx of worker alienation as it is expressed covertly and symbolically in religious belief and behavior (pp. 409-432). Sontag (1989) agrees with this general assessment and notes how cancer was made synonymous with evil metaphorically, while having AIDS is seen today as an imputation of guilt, and in this case the guilt comes from a known source: "Indeed, to get AIDS is precisely to be revealed, in the majority of cases so far, as a mem...

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The social costs of the AIDS epidemic. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:11, July 28, 2021, from