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On TB Vaccines, Patients’ Demands, and Modern Printed Media in Times of Biomedical Uncertainties: Buenos Aires, 1920–1950

  • Symposium: Tuberculosis
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Reconstructing some of the experiences of people living with tuberculosis in Argentina in the first half of the twentieth century, as reflected not only in written and oral accounts but also in individual and collective actions, this article explores the ways in which patients came to grips with medical expertise in times of biomedical uncertainty. These negotiations, which inevitably included adaptations as well as confrontations, highlight a much less passive and submissive patient–physician relationship than is often assumed. Though patients were certainly subordinate to medical doctors’ knowledge and practices, that subordination, far from absolute, was limited and often overthrown. The article focuses on patients’ demands to gain access to a vaccine not approved by the medical establishment. By engaging with media organizations, the sick invoked their “right to health” in order to obtain access to experimental treatments when biomedicine was unable to deliver efficient therapies.

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  1. I discussed in great detail this kaleidoscope in The Ailing City (Armus 2011).

  2. This and the translations hereafter are mine.

  3. Interview with Elma M. This and the rest of the in-depth interviews mentioned hereafter were done by the author between May 2003 and August 2005.

  4. I am using the word “right” as a general entitlement. Tuberculars in the 1940s used it with this meaning, definitively more vague than the current definition and discussion of “patients’ rights.” In Argentina, the late ’30s and the ’40s were years of enhancement of social and political citizenship.

  5. Names of authors and titles of newspaper and magazine articles referenced in this paper are not currently available. The original versions of Crítica and Ahora are under a process of digitization at the National Library in Buenos Aires and, consequently, are not available for consultation. Information for these sources are provided in in-text citations but not listed in the references section.


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Correspondence to Diego Armus.

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Armus, D. On TB Vaccines, Patients’ Demands, and Modern Printed Media in Times of Biomedical Uncertainties: Buenos Aires, 1920–1950. Bioethical Inquiry 13, 35–45 (2016).

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