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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Jul;71(2):345-352. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.04.006. Epub 2010 Apr 29.

Antiretroviral therapy and reproductive life projects: mitigating the stigma of AIDS in Nigeria.

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Department of Anthropology, Brown University, Box 1921, 128 Hope Street, Providence, RI, United States. Electronic address:
Community and Youth Development Initiatives, 54 Ekwema Crescent, Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria.


As millions of people infected with HIV in Africa are increasingly able to live longer and healthier lives because of access to antiretroviral therapy, concerns have emerged that people might eschew protective practices after their health improves. Extending beyond the notion of sexual "disinhibition," researchers have begun to analyze the sexual behavior of people in treatment through the perspective of their marital and childbearing aspirations. This article explores the reproductive life projects of HIV-positive men and women in southeastern Nigeria, showing how actions that contradict medical advice are understandable in the context of patients' socially normative desires for marriage and children. Based on in-depth interviews and observations (June-December 2004; June-July 2006; June-July 2007) of people enrolled in the region's oldest treatment program, we argue that broadly held social expectations with regard to reproduction are experienced even more acutely by HIV-positive people. This is because in Nigeria the stigma associated with AIDS is closely tied to widespread perceptions of social and moral crisis, such that AIDS itself is seen as both a cause and a symptom of anxiety-producing forms of social change. Specifically, in an era of rapid societal transformation, Nigerians see sexual promiscuity and the alienation of young people from traditional obligations to kin and community as indicative of threatened social reproduction. For people who are HIV-positive, marrying and having children offer not only the opportunity to lead normal lives, but also a means to mitigate the stigma associated with the disease. Four ethnographic case studies are provided to exemplify how and why social and personal life projects can trump or complicate medical and public health priorities. These examples suggest that treatment programs must openly address and proactively support the life projects of people on antiretroviral therapy if the full benefits of expanded access to treatment are to be realized.

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