Question: Culture and treatment

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Health professionals involved in the treatment and prevention of acquired immune deficiency
syndrome (AIDS) have recently begun to address the cultural factors involved in their work. Culture
is relevant to AIDS in that it influences beliefs about illness and sexual practices, language use and
communication style, family roles and structure, and religious beliefs. The purpose of this activity is
to familiarize you with some of the cultural considerations in the prevention and treatment of AIDS.
Read the three descriptions below. Select one and, explain how you might address the treatment or
prevention of AIDS in a manner appropriate to the cultural context. Discuss what the particular
challenges would be and how you would address those challenges. Your response should be at
least 250 words.
Pamela Balls Organista and Kurt C. Organista (1998) have identified Mexican migrant workers in the
United States (primarily laborers and seasonal farmworkers) as a new at-risk population for AIDS.
These authors point to such risk factors as prostitution use, male homosexual contact, limited
knowledge regarding HIV transmission and proper condom use, and female migrants having highrisk
sexual partners. Balls Organista and Organista explain that programs for treating and
preventing AIDS face cultural barriers in that:
Mexican migrant workers may have limited literacy and English speaking ability.
There is a tendency for traditional Latino men and women to avoid directly discussing sexual
Migrant workers are by definition a transient group.
Migrant workers often live in conditions of poverty.
Mexican migrant women tend to believe that carrying condoms makes one promiscuous.
Stan Sesser (1994) explains that there is such stigma attached to AIDS in Japan that the Japanese
Ministry of Health and Welfare has funded an HIV testing clinic in Hawaii for Japanese citizens.
AIDS is viewed particularly negatively since, from a Japanese perspective, it is associated with
homosexuality and with foreigners. According to Sesser, those who fly to Hawaii to be tested often
state that the plane fare for the 4.000 mile trip is well worth the guarantee of anonymity because
public knowledge of being HIV positive would be disastrous in Japan.
A relatively new class of drugs, called protease inhibitors, has greatly decreased deaths from AIDS
where the drugs are available. African Americans as a group, however, have not benefitted from the
availability of these drugs to the extent expected by health professionals. Some health
professionals and AIDS patients have attributed this in part to the fact that protease inhibitors are
experimental and may trigger memories of the Tuskeegee study of the 1930s in which researchers
studied the effects of syphilis by allowing hundreds of infected African American men to go
untreated (Wilson, 1997).
Balls Organista, P., & Organista, K. C. (1998). Culture and gender sensitive AIDS prevention in
Mexican migrant laborers: A primer for counselors. In P. Balls Organista, K. M. Chun, & G. Marin
Readings in ethnic psychology (pp. 240-246). New York: Routledge.
Wilson, B. (Reporter). (1997, May 16). Tuskeegee Study’s legacy of mistrust. All things consider
Washington, DC: National Public Radio.
Sesser, S. (1994, November 14). Hidden death: A letter from Japan. New Yorker. Excerpted Well
Project: Asian and Pacific Islander AIDS Services (1995). Sexual diversity handbook. San Francisco,
CA: Author.


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