VAST 206

AIDS: A Modern Pandemic

Instructor: Thomas Yuster

Office: 234 Pardee

Office Phone: (610) 330-5278


This course may be used as an elective for the Health Care and Society minor.


      Portrait of a Mass Murderer

Course Description:  This course will examine the AIDS pandemic, primarily in the United States, but also in Africa. A thorough understanding of the pandemic requires students to view the pandemic from more than one perspective and from more than one set of cultural assumptions. One of the goals of the course is recognition by the students that such a multitude of perspectives is necessary when considering such complex problems.

The first part of the course will be concerned primarily with the biological foundations of the pandemic. This is the most "scientific" section of the course, but even here we will see that it is almost impossible to avoid societal issues. We will discuss what a virus is, how viruses cause disease, and how new viruses emerge and spread. We will be particularly interested in ways HIV spreads - the epidemiology of AIDS. Not surprisingly, AIDS epidemiology is intimately related to the mores and customs of various societies, and to their social structures. We will also discuss how HIV evades and eventually destroys the human immune system.

The second part of the course will be concerned primarily with social, political, and ethical issues spawned by the AIDS pandemic. We will begin by discussing the history of the pandemic in the United States, paying close attention to how various segments of our society viewed the pandemic, how they were affected by it, and how they responded to it. We will look at some of the theories concerning the origins of HIV, and see how scientific research in this area has been affected by the attitudes and concerns of non- scientists. We will also consider the politics of AIDS, both in the context of allocation of social resources, and in terms of the political agendas of various groups involved in the societal response.

We will also examine the AIDS pandemic in Africa. We will discuss how historical, cultural, and economic factors have affected the course of the pandemic, and why many of the approaches to combating the pandemic in the US are inappropriate for much of Africa. What sorts of programs have a chance of success there?

By the end of the course it should have become clear just how complex many of the issues surrounding the AIDS pandemic actually are, and how difficult these issues are to understand fully, let alone address adequately. But address these issues we must - in an informed, rational fashion. And the primary goal of this course is to make students better able to do just that.

COURSE PREREQUISITE: Biology 101 or consent of instructor (which is not hard to obtain - send me email)