“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” said Ans Weidler, a professor of sociology at the UC Berkeley Graduate School, whose talk was titled from the famous quote about serious concerns about global health problems. misunderstanding.
Swidler kicked off the spring 2023 portion of the Global Health Politics Symposium at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies on Monday with her presentation, “Full of Kindness: Global Health Policy and Care Dilemmas in High Viral Load HIV Clinics in Malawi,” Jan. 30 days.
Despite the scientific nature of her research, Swidler said, she does not have a background in global health. She describes herself as a “cultural sociologist” and says her background in sociology allows her to “see what other people aren’t looking for”. Most importantly, she said there was a disconnect between the African life imagined by “global players” and the reality of life in Africa.
“The idea of trying to change the life of someone you’ve never bothered to understand is morally offensive and stupid,” Swidler said.
Swidler says her curiosity about differences in the efficiency of institutions around the world is what drew her to the research. She said her special interest in HIV and AIDS treatment inefficiencies in Africa led her to devote nearly two decades to HIV research in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, HIV is a virus that weakens the body’s ability to fight infection. If left untreated, HIV can become AIDS, which in turn can predispose those infected to many other serious diseases. As of 2021, WHO estimates that there will be 38.4 million people living with HIV worldwide, of whom approximately 990,000 are in Malawi.
Nicolette Manglos-Weber, an assistant professor of religion and society in the BU School of Theology, said she worked closely with Swidler in 2006 to study HIV transmission, treatment and prevention, and Malawian perceptions of the disease.
“It’s been said that HIV is a disease of poverty,” Manglos-Weber said. “With the right financial and public health support, this is a very treatable and survivable disease.”
According to the World Health Organization, HIV treatment often includes antiretroviral therapy, which protects the immune system, reduces mortality and improves the quality of life of those infected.
But in Malawi, the situation is different. Clinics in the country are under-treating acute HIV cases, Swidler said, and in 2019 she and her researchers spent the summer trying to understand why. The research, which included interviews, field notes, and observations, culminated in a “very good analysis of what the problem was,” Swidler told the seminar.
BU associate professor of sociology Joseph Harris said he founded the Global Health Politics Symposium in hopes of drawing attention to the organization’s issues and providing a space for scholars and practitioners to share their work.
“Often, the answers to global health problems … are left to collect dust on the shelf without being put into practice or taking into account issues related to real-world problems,” Harris said.
According to the Pardee School of Global Studies website, the lecture series will run throughout the spring and revolve around the question: “How can the study of the politics of global health issues help improve the human condition and secure a better future?”
Harris said he believes this semester’s lectures, including Svidler’s, will show “how and why politics is critical to understanding, explaining and solving different problems in the world.”
Likewise, Swidler emphasized the importance of dedicating time, resources, and understanding to global public health research.
“(Global Health Research) reduced infant mortality, dramatically increased life expectancy, vaccinated nearly everyone on the planet against polio, and ended river blindness,” she said. “What has been achieved in global public health is astounding.”