When Debility Provides a Future: Preventing Vertical Transmission of HIV

Annette-Carina van der Zaag, Ulla McKnight*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In this article we investigate the way in which viral load assays are used to assess the viruses of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)-positive pregnant women who are cared for in an HIV-specialist antenatal clinic in London. One of the viral load assays has been made more sensitive to subtypes of the virus that are considered to be local, possibly reading the viruses of those who have ‘foreign’ subtypes as undetectable. Consequently, the patient might not be offered the kind of care needed to prevent transmission of HIV, as her body is not recognised as sufficiently debilitated. Thus, being identified as a debilitated body in this setting facilitates the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV and the management of the HIV-positive pregnant patient's virus. Further to this, we argue that in our example, having a debilitated body as constructed by the viral load assay is thus a ‘privilege’ that is accorded to HIV-positive persons depending on the geographic origin of their virus. Using Karen Barad's agential realism, we argue that the manner in which HIV is read through the viral load assay constructs a specific woman/foetus/HIV phenomenon. The specificity of this phenomenon directly impacts on the course of care, opening up or foreclosing the possibility of her child having a future free from HIV.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFeminist Review
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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