Epidemiologists, social scientists, and the structure of medical research on aids in Africa

Randall M. Packard, Paul Epstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


The development of medical research on AIDS in Africa resembles earlier efforts to understand the epidemiology of TB and syphilis in Africa. In all three cases early research focused on why these diseases exhibited epidemiological patterns in Africa than in the west. Early explanations of these differences focused on the peculiarities of African behavior, while largely excluding from vision a range of environmental factors. These parallels provide a framework for examining how western ideas about AIDS in Africa developed, the role of social scientists in the formation of these ideas, and how these initial perceptions shaped the subsequent development of AIDS research, encouraging a premature narrowing of research questions. The paper warns that, as in the histories of TB and syphilis research, this early closure may generate inadequate and inappropriate responses to the African AIDS epidemic and limit our understanding of the disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-783
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • AIDS
  • Africa
  • epidemiology
  • social science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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