History of Medicine
sexually (HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea) or via intravenous drug use (e.g., HIV/AIDS), or are associated with poverty and crowding (tuberculosis), poor sanitation (cholera), or disfigurement (leprosy). Stigma typically results in patients being rejected and isolated beyond what is needed to prevent spread of infection.
It is revealing that the posters about venereal disease from the 1940s depict the woman as the villain - the source of sexually transmitted infection for the theoretically “clean” man. The message portrayed was that wily women, whether the seductress or the innocent appearing young woman, could tempt unwary men and trap them with sexually transmitted infections. Women were suspect, deceptive and dangerous, and the savvy man was to stifle his sexual desires.
With HIV/AIDS, condoms came out of the closet and from behind the counter at the pharmacy. Now condoms could be depicted on a poster, described in public advertisements, distributed as favors at events, and shown in places of social gathering. A whimsical poster that the Brazilian Ministry of Health used in a media campaign to counter statements by religious leaders questioning whether condoms worked showed a knotted inflated condom filled almost completely with water and with a goldfish swimming in it – a symbol of life, renewal, continuity, hope, and suggesting an impenetrable characteristic of the condom. The message “Nothing passes through a condom. Use it. Trust it.”
If AIDS exposed condoms, SARS similarly propelled face masks onto the public consciousness. More than any other recent infection, SARS moved face masks out of the hospital and into ads, on covers of magazines, and on posters. In an earlier era, during the influenza pandemic of 1918 and1919, face masks were also displayed on posters and on public health alerts.
While many of the early posters provide messages about dangers and activities or people to avoid, the HIV posters show a distinct reversal. One depicts the ways that HIV cannot be spread with the implicit message that contact with HIV-infected individuals is safe. This is meant to allay fears and allow interactions that some had curtailed because of fear. Another showed expression of affection that would be safe - a contrast from the moralistic rendering of sex.