HIV as Uncertain Life

Authors: Brian King*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Development
Keywords: HIV, South Africa, uncertainty, managed HIV, chronic HIV
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Balcony M, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


It is estimated that 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2015, and roughly 2.1 million people became newly infected with HIV in that same year (AIDS.gov 2017). While expansive, the epidemic has taken on a new course in recent years due to expanded access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) that is extending the lives of HIV-positive individuals for years or even decades. The result of these developments is that the global health community increasingly classifies HIV as a chronic condition, akin to diabetes and heart disease in that with proper testing and behavioral change the disease can be effectively managed. Yet this representation obscures the underlying conditions for those living with HIV. Chronic HIV serves as a stabilization of life, while managed HIV represents an uncertain daily experience. This paper draws on the findings from an ongoing research project that is examining the social and environmental impacts of HIV/AIDS in rural South Africa. I argue that while those living with HIV know their disease status, they do not necessarily know the status of their health. This is due to a mix of factors, ranging from fluid and unstable viral loads, lingering social stigmas, unique bodily responses to treatment, and local treatment protocols that do not align with global prescriptions. The consequence is that while HIV is increasingly stabilized by members of the global health community as a chronic condition, managed HIV is uncertain life that is experienced through inequities in exposure, treatment, and management.

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