Back in September
We systematically examine community reaction to persons with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) and their families in Thailand from multiple perspectives using several types of data. We explore these community reactions during the time of the PHAs’ illness and after their deaths. Quantitative data sources include a survey of young adult PHAs (n=425); a survey of parents who suffered the death of an adult child to AIDS (n=394 cases); a KAP study of AIDS that includes both older and young adults (n=1174); and quantitative data from local key informants about cases in their area (n=286 cases). This extensive quantitative information is supplemented with several sources of qualitative data. Data were collected during 1999 – 2001 from a wide range of settings throughout Thailand.
We find community reaction to PHAs and their families to vary by features of the case, social group, and type of observer, but overall these reactions are much more positive than is widely assumed. The overwhelming majority of key informants’ assessments and of PHA parents’ reports indicate either a generally positive community response or a neutral one. Results from our sample of PHAs, who are recruited from PHA support groups, are more mixed. For those who were treated poorly, it is suggested by at least some of our data sources that living in the city, living in an area without an NGO working on AIDS, being described as having problematic character, or being at either extreme of the socioeconomic spectrum may elevate the risk of experiencing negative community reaction.
We conclude that much existing research on community reaction to AIDS neglects both a rich body of social theory on stigma and a strong tradition of population-based empirical research. Much existing research also fails to adequately distinguish between key aspects of the social settings where most AIDS cases occur and the social settings where most of the stereotypes surrounding AIDS-related stigma have originated. Sociologists have much to offer to further investigations of this critically important dimension of the AIDS epidemic.
Country of focus: Thailand.