Brazil has received praise internationally for its national health policy against HIV. Whilst the ethical stance of the Brazilian programme has been widely applauded, there is a lack of empirical data on how the commitment to equitable and universal HIV prevention and treatment works in practice among the poorest population groups. The aim of this paper is to explore the broad ethics of the Brazilian AIDS programme by investigating how universal access to HIV treatment is being implemented within a favela (shanty town). Data collected through anthropological research show that in settings such as the favelas, the universal character of this public health programme is challenged by a number of issues such as local definitions of illness, problems related to the understanding of and adherence to treatment, structural violence, political alienation, and lack of perspectives about the future. It is also argued that such health intervention has contributed to the promotion of novel attitudes towards individual notions of socio-political participation. These are explored with reference to the notion of therapeutic citizenship, which in the context of a favela neighbourhood translates into a new set of concerns around free access to and availability of treatment, the right to health care and the sustainability of public health policies.
Sociology of Health and Illness (2008) 30 (6) 900-912 [doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01124.x]