Politics and the Pandemic: HIV/AIDS, Africa, and the Discourse of Disability

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Laura L. Behling


HIV/AIDS, Africa, Disability


In 2004, Africa News filed a report on then12-year old William Msechu, a young African who lost both of his parents to AIDS in 1999.  He, too, was HIV positive.  Msechu is characterized as a “very bright boy,” although, the article reports, he is “yet to come to terms with his HIV status.”  “’I was told that I have tuberculosis and I am getting better,’” the article quotes William as saying to journalists (“HIV-AIDS and STDs,” 2004).  William Msechu’s disbelief at having contracted HIV is unremarkable; persons diagnosed with severe diseases, including HIV/AIDS, often work through denial and incredulity. Just as unremarkable, however, is Msechu’s contention that he had not tested positive for HIV, but rather, had contracted tuberculosis, another widespread disease but not nearly as stigmatizing as HIV/AIDS.  Substituting “tuberculosis” for “HIV” may be an affirming measure for Msechu, but it also provides one more example of the rhetorical slipperiness that historically, and still continues to accompany, the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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