Human Anatomy at Colby

Rebecca Gray: Sociology of Epidemiology

February 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Rebecca Gray: Sociology of Epidemiology


Today, I met an epidemiologist. He spoke about disease control: how germs traverse continents, how we respond to global health crises, and how we can prepare for future epidemics, because, “after all,” he said, “they are inevitable.” To begin, he offered a bit of a crash course on HIV in America; while the subject matter was grim, the bottom line felt overwhelmingly hopeful. In a nutshell, we learned that HIV, at one time the leading cause of death for men ages 25-40 in the U.S., is now a condition well-controlled with proper medication. So yes, while HIV remains a gravely serious diagnosis, and continues to spread rapidly in underdeveloped regions of Africa, the vibe of this speech was uplifting, full of the promise of research, breakthrough, and medical revolution.

But I am skeptical. I am skeptical because this crash course glossed over the very gritty history of HIV in America. It glossed over they way AIDS (Auto-Immune Deficiency Disorder) used to be called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). It skipped the years that HIV drugs (AZT and others) spent in gridlock, waiting to be clinically tested, because policy makers refused to fund medical initiatives for “perverts” with “homosexual tendencies”. It did not mention that the decline of HIV-related deaths in the U.S. correlated exactly with the mobilization of the gay rights movement. In short, it did not admit that disease control intersects with issues of social justice on nearly every level: race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The outbreaks we hear about, the drugs we are sold, the preventative measures we are asked to take, are carefully calculated. Information can be manipulated to reassure or scare us, to rile us up or calm us down. Our recent preoccupation with the ebola virus is a textbook example of this. As midterm elections drew near, political candidates used a health crisis occurring in Africa as ammunition in an American political debate. Articles citing the ways in which ebola can be contracted, pictures depicting its unsavory symptoms, and bold political promises to end this epidemic pervaded our lives. Then, suddenly, voting season passed, effectively closing the door on ebola discussion. This happened because government officials, now secure in their jobs, could no longer bank on public fear. In fact, our speaker did acknowledge this, and made admirable efforts to include social discussion in his lecture. It is not my intention to discredit him; I understand that in a single hour, it’s impossible to cover the field of epidemiology and all its intersections with sociology entirely. I found his presentation to be smart, well researched, and engaging. Rather, I just hope to use this blog post as a means to discuss the social implications of epidemiology in a way that we were not quite able to in class. Medicine cannot function outside the realm of social intersectionality. To say that medical information and technology are the only roadblocks, or even the largest roadblocks between ourselves and global health solutions is to be sadly mistaken. As important and exciting as medical advancement is, we must also tackle poverty and discrimination when taking on issues of global health. Class, race, gender, sexuality, age, and ableism all affect a person’s access to proper healthcare and health education.

Tags: Guest Speakers · Human Health

Dr. Peter Millard, Epidemiologists Comes to Speak.

January 30th, 2015 · Comments Off on Dr. Peter Millard, Epidemiologists Comes to Speak.

The last day of class we had the pleasure and honor of hosting epidemiologist Dr. Peter Millard, an MD PhD based in Belfast Maine, for a thoroughly engaging hour as he spoke about a wide range of epidemiological issues. The topics covered spanned his work on HIV infection in Africa, to the political, media and social components of disease right here in Maine.

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For all of the students in Bi265j I would like to thank Dr. Millard for graciously donating his time to come and speak to us. Watch his interesting and informative presentation below.

Tags: Guest Speakers