Health prevention in the era of biosocieties: a critical analysis of the ‘Seek-and-Treat’ paradigm in HIV/AIDS prevention

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On 18 November 2014, the United Nations launched an urgent new campaign to end AIDS as a global health threat by 2030. With its proposed strategy, the UN follows leading scientists who had declared the failure of former prevention strategies and now were promoting a ‘Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention’ (STOP) approach as the most cost-effective response to the pandemic to meet the goal of ‘an AIDS-free generation’. STOP combines antiretroviral therapy and routine HIV screening to find persons unaware that they are HIV-positive, because research has shown that people consistently change their behaviour (i.e. increase condom use, have fewer partners) after an HIV diagnosis. AIDS activists have broadly criticized this strategy on different levels. In this article, we go beyond these criticisms and try to analyse the political rationalities behind this ‘new’ strategy. We believe that it is necessary to put the rationale underpinning the STOP programme into the context of broader societal transformations that can best be captured as the development of advanced liberal societies and the new emphasis on self-controlling or self-responsibility rather than on disciplining behaviour.

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