An event organised by Hidden Epidemics and Epidemiological Obfuscation Research Network
Hillary Ash (University of Pittsburgh)
9 November 2021
This presentation examines how the United States Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) epidemiological surveillance tools created gaps in knowledge about AIDS in American women from 1981 to 1992. Drawing upon 'AIDS Case Report Forms' and surveillance reports, I explore how shifting demographic classifications, classificatory hierarchies, and selective data reporting rhetorically constructed the AIDS patient. I suggest that surveillance infrastructures made (hyper-)visible the very subject medico-scientific professionals already knew to be at-risk for AIDS: gay men. As surveillance data circulated to expert and nonexpert publics, the figure of the AIDS-patient-as-gay-man became entrenched in the U.S. social imaginary. I argue that many women could not see themselves as at-risk for AIDS nor could medico-scientific professionals see AIDS symptoms in women because surveillance data obfuscated the epidemic in this population. As a result, many women with AIDS died silent deaths, and the true scope of the epidemic is unknown.