Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 413-430

First online:

A different disease: HIV/AIDS and health care for women in poverty

  • Martha C. WardAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of New Orleans

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The goal of this paper is to demonstrate that HIV/AIDS for poor women is a qualitatively different disease than the one first defined in the United States in the 1980s. HIV/AIDS for poor women is not a new disease; it is only another life-threatening condition which parallels serious health problems already experienced by these populations. A time-honored and broad continuum of disease and death for poor women is linked to such factors as poverty, self-medication, infant morbidity, infant mortality and cervical cancer. The programmatic responses to HIV/AIDS in poor women have been grafted onto existing services established by and for homosexual men or onto the obstetrical-gynecological and prenatal systems already in place. Furthermore, the primary socio-psychological mechanisms of denial and dependency that characterize poor women are far more salient than notions of risk-taking or sexual lifestyles. These conclusions lead to somber predictions for the course of the epidemic and the prognosis for treatment and care for poor women with HIV.