In the last few weeks of class we have looked at several different cases of disease outbreaks throughout the world, and how different cultures have diverse understandings of these outbreaks. Of the sicknesses we have studied, I feel that the HIV and Syphilis outbreaks stand apart from the others because of their massive infections in many different cultures and parts of the world, and also due to the fact that the diseases cannot be cured, along with the unfortunately high rate of death among its victims.
When the outbreaks of syphilis and HIV first became present, science at the time was unable to come up with a clear cause for the sicknesses. People witnessing the diseases, however, were quick to assign their own cause. Unfortunately, most put the blame on African Americans.
While Syphilis may have been introduced to the western worlds by slave trade according to Philip D. Curtin, inefficient evidence is present to call this fact, and most blame when these diseases first became present were completely racially based. This blind prejudice led to an extremely limited understanding of the diseases. Many felt the diseases were so racially specific that whites were completely immune to the epidemics. Some even felt that Blacks became infected because they were inferior unchristian beings, and as being so, they were being punished by god. (PBS/NOVA “The Deadly Deception”) As an effect of this logic, many more fell victim to the sicknesses, refusing treatment due to these beliefs.
This racial attitude of the time also severely hindered the discovery of the real causes of HIV and Syphilis.
Many years later, and after a very large progression in medical research, scientists have finally came to a clear agreement on the causes of these diseases. It is now obvious that there are three main causes to an HIV or Syphilis infection. A victim may become infected through blood transfusions or sexual contact with another, or the diseases may be carried from a mother to her child. These conclusions vary greatly from what was first thought as the cause of the epidemics. The incorrect causes initially found by those in early times most likely were based on a lack of knowledge in the areas of sanitary blood transfusions, safe sex, and the extremely racist attitude of the time.
This lack of knowledge can be seen in what the diseases first became known as: “Bad Blood” (CDC).
While scientist have now found the real causes of the diseases, the apprehensions and blame-placing on these diseases certainly have helped cause them to spread just as much as all other causes, whether behavioral, social, or biological. Behavioral causes are helping to spread the diseases just as much now as ever before, through such things as needle-sharing and unsanitary medical practice. Also a high level of sexual activity coupled with a lack of knowledge about safe sex is spreading the sicknesses as well. Social conflicts may be the only causes that led to the apprehensions of the time. As many blamed the African Americans for the disease, the horrible conditions found through the slave trade system may have led to an increase in the cases of Syphilis and may have introduced it to Europe (Philip D.
Curtin). In any case, the racist causes put on the diseases in early times did much more harm to people than good. It helped spread the sicknesses, handicapped the scientific understandings of the diseases, and further fueled the racism at the time.
With any disease, a very large part in how victims of a disease are treated comes from the cultural understanding of that disease. It is possible that even just how people talk and think about a disease can affect those suffering from it and the treatments developed for it. In the case of HIV and syphilis, Brazil can be pointed to as a chief example of how cultural understanding affects a disease.
While Brazil was once one of the most heavily HIV-infected nations in the world, it is now progressively improving not only because of many well thought out programs, but also because of a changed perspective people in the nation now have on HIV. The country is very open sexually, causing .