Talking About AIDS with Realism and Hope

by Morgan Clark '05

The subject was deadly serious. Yet, there was also humor and hope shared at the conference on “HIV/AIDS: Activism and Global Pandemic,” March 6-7, at Scripps. The Humanities Institute sponsored the event as a part of their symposia, “Biopowers: Disease, Ethics, Activism.”

Dr. Sheila Tlou traveled from the University of Botswana to talk on “HIV/AIDS in Africa: The Gender Issue.” She emphasized that the spread of AIDS through systematic raping of women is the result of the numerous civil wars in Africa. The instability of African countries, whether war-torn or impoverished, exacerbates the plight of AIDS victims, and the people most marginalized from care are women.

Performance artist Michael Keams presented “Intimacies and Complications: A Retrospective of AIDS Monologues.” From a gay man obsessed with Jackie Kennedy to Marilyn Monroe recounting her experiences with Rock Hudson to a Catholic priest, Keams embodied an incredible spectrum of characters affected by AIDS, and managed to incorporate a range of feelings that accompany the disease.

Dr. Wende Marshall, a critic of biomedicine and a medical anthropologist from the University of Virginia, argued that AIDS should be approached as a sociocultural disease with biological impacts and, therefore, the power relations that hinder such a perspective should be challenged.

Speaking on behalf of Doctors Without Borders (Mddecins Sans Frontieres), Mary Jo Frawley told of her experiences as a nurse in the program. Doctors Without Borders is trying to work with drug companies and governments to make antiretroviral treatments (ARV) available to HIV/AIDS patients on a wide-scale basis.

While each presenter spoke of the gravity of the epidemic, there was no lack of enthusiasm, humor, or hope. At the close of the symposium, one left with some optimism about the future defeat of AIDS, knowing that those who spoke are dedicating their lives to eradicating the disease and inspiring others to do the same.