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Mono-causal and multi-causal theories of disease: how to think virally and socially about the aetiology of AIDS

Furman, Katherine (2017) Mono-causal and multi-causal theories of disease: how to think virally and socially about the aetiology of AIDS. Journal of Medical Humanities, 41 (2). pp. 107-121. ISSN 1041-3545

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s10912-017-9441-9

Abstract

In this paper, I utilise the tools of analytic philosophy to amalgamate mono-causal and multi-causal theories of disease. My aim is to better integrate viral and socio-economic explanations of AIDS in particular, and to consider how the perceived divide between mono-causal and multi-causal theories played a role in the tragedy of AIDS denialism in South Africa in the early 2000s. Currently, there is conceptual ambiguity surrounding the relationship between mono-causal and multi-causal theories in biomedicine and epidemiology. Mono-causal theories focus on single, typically microbial, sources of illness and are most concerned with infectious diseases. By contrast, multi-causal theories allow for multiple factors to underpin a disease’s aetiology, including socio-economic and behavioural factors, and they usually focus on chronic non-communicable diseases. However, if these theories are taken to be strictly distinct, this prevents the inclusion of both microbial and socio-economic factors in a single explanation of any particular disease. This strict distinction became a problem when trying to explain the disproportionate prevalence of AIDS in southern Africa and ultimately contributed to the tragedy of AIDS denialism in South Africa. In tandem with viewing how the perceived divide between multi-causal and mono-causal theories underpinned AIDS denialism, I examine Thabo Mbeki’s specific role, while acknowledging that AIDS is being deprioritised on a broader international level. Overall, I will demonstrate that any long-term plan to eliminate AIDS will require viral and socio-economic factors to be considered simultaneously and that such a theoretical approach requires a clearer understanding of the underlying concepts of disease aetiology.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2017, The Author(s).
Divisions: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2022 09:36
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2024 18:36
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/116374

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