The Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) (formerly the National Centre in HIV Social Research) hosted the 13th Social Research Conference on HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Related Diseases (HHARD) at the University of New South Wales on Thursday February 20 and Friday February 21, 2014. The HHARD Conference is integral to Australia's efforts in understanding the social and behavioural dynamics of blood borne viral epidemics and sexually transmissible infections. The biennial conference invites researchers, health professionals, policy-makers and community members from across a variety of fields to engage with research and practice with a multi-disciplinary perspective.

The rapid expansion of biomedical technologies has contributed to a shift in the way we understand, prevent and treat blood-borne viruses, illicit drug use, sexually transmissible infections, and other forms of health and illness. The concept of 'biomedicalisation' describes what is seen as a trend towards growing reliance on technoscientific interventions to treat and prevent diseases, and to manage risks and optimise human life more broadly. Such interventions are defined less by 'medical control' over health-related phenomena ('medicalisation'), than by their promise to 'transform' such phenomena and, in the process, transform bodies and identities. Part of the global attraction of the biomedical solution is that its apparent universality and simplicity promises to bypass the messy complexities of people's lives and normalise previously stigmatised conditions and practices. However, social scientists have been critical of the ways in which biomedical technologies have failed to engage with the everyday real world experiences of those whom they target. It is also worth asking whether the promise of 'normalisation' through bio-medical interventions is extended to all marginalised communities. In addition, the framing of biomedicine as a simple solution to a range of medical and social ills is challenged by the fact that the introduction of biotechnologies has demanded increasingly complex collaborations between different local and global actors - consumers, researchers, private industries (pharmaceutical and biotechnological) and governments. Different actors bring diverse points of view and interests, and thereby contribute to a more heterogeneous understanding of the effects of treatment and prevention interventions.

The aim of this conference was to consider how biomedicine shapes our understandings of, and experiences with the treatment and prevention of blood-borne viruses, illicit drug use, chronic illness and sexually transmissible infections.

We invited delegates to consider the following questions:

  • How do particular biomedical technologies play out in the 'real world', and how do they do so differently based on different 'real world' perspectives?
  • How do new biomedical technologies help or challenge our understanding of HIV, viral hepatitis, illicit drug use and sexually transmissible infections, including how they should be prevented and treated?
  • What promises do new technologies hold in relation to prevention or treatment of HIV, viral hepatitis, illicit drug use and sexually transmissible infections? To what extent have these promises materialised?
  • How do new technologies shape people's lived experiences of medical treatment? In particular how are these technologies experienced differently by marginalised and disadvantaged communities?
  • Technologies related to computerization, data visualisation, and data banking and processing contribute to new understandings of HIV, viral hepatitis, illicit drug use and sexual health. How have these technologies shaped the research process, the type and quality of knowledge produced, and how such knowledge is disseminated?

We also invite speakers to address other significant social research issues in HIV, viral hepatitis, sexuality and drug use.

The 13th Social Research Conference on HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Related Diseases is sponsored by:

FASS UNSW Sydney 2052, Australia
Tel: (International) +61 (0) 2 9385 6776
Email: csrh@unsw.edu.au

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