Syndemics theory and its applications to HIV/AIDS public health interventions


Matt Douglas-Vail

Medical anthropologists have recently introduced the term “syndemic” to explain the synergistic interaction of two or more diseases and the social situations in which these diseases develop (Singer 2003). The term syndemic is a portmanteau of “synergy” and “epidemic”, “pandemic” and “endemic”. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality globally, lends itself to examination using the syndemics framework. In this paper, the concept of syndemics were defined and the importance of this concept was demonstrated. Next, examples of syndemics were outlined and the application of the concept to studying HIV was highlighted. The advantages and limitations of this theoretical framework were also explored. The integrity of the concept of syndemics was examined as it has been applied to varying HIV syndemics. Finally, the utility and applicability of HIV syndemics theory was examined in the context of HIV prevention programs and public health practices. All of these serve to highlight the importance of syndemics theory as a valuable and underused perspective with which to tackle the global problem of HIV.

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