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HIV/AIDS in the UK

Funding body

Wellcome Trust


Project description

Melissa Parker

In September 2010, collaborative links were established between the Centre for Research in International Medical Anthropology and the North Middlesex Hospital, London. Several research projects are envisaged with a view to developing our understanding of the HIV epidemic in UK. One of my doctoral students, for example, will shortly be undertaking fieldwork among black Africans in London in collaboration with clinical staff at the hospital.

This research builds directly on ethnographic fieldwork that I undertook, over a period of 2 ¼ years, in the 1990s on sexual networks and the transmission of HIV/AIDS in the UK. This fieldwork was part of a multi-disciplinary and collaborative research project (funded by the Wellcome Trust). It involved working closely with scientists and mathematical modelers at Imperial College, London. Much of my research involved working with young, gay men. As a result, it was possible to identify transmission routes that had previously been overlooked (such as the increasing occurrence of unprotected sex in the backrooms of pubs, clubs and saunas). It was also possible to highlight numerous, misplaced assumptions underpinning public policy seeking to control the transmission of HIV, including the view that sex workers play a disproportionate role in the transmission of HIV, and the assumption that all young people wish to be HIV negative. In addition, ethnographic fieldwork in a clinic for sexually transmitted infections detailed the different ways in which political and economic factors influenced the ethos of the clinic and how this, in turn, promoted the idea of HIV as a ‘sexy’ and ‘desirable’ infection.

My research on sexual networks and the transmission of HIV/AIDS not only generated debate nationally and internationally, but also led to extensive discussions with staff from British Government’s Health Protection Agency as well as numerous publications.

Publications related to this research

Parker M 2006. Core groups and the transmission of HIV: learning from male prostitutes’ Journal of Biosocial Science 38(1), 117-131.

Parker M 2003. Anthropological reflections on HIV prevention strategies: the case for targeting London’s backrooms, in G.Ellison, M.Parker, and C.Campbell (eds.), Learning from HIV and AIDS, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.178-209.

Parker M 2001. ‘Stuck in GUM: Life in a clap clinic’, in D. Gellner and E. Hirsch (eds.), The Ethnography of Organisations: a reader. Oxford: Berg Press, pp. 137-156.

Parker M 1999. ‘HIV transmission in urban environments: London and beyond’, in L.Schell and S.Ulijaszek (eds.), Urbanism and Human Biology in Industrialised Countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 280-308.  .

Parker M, Ward H and Day S 1998. Sexual networks and the transmission of HIV in London, Journal of Biosocial Science, 30 (1), 63-83.