• Article

'Come back when you're dying:' The commodification of AIDS among California's urban poor

As with any other long-term illness, the decline in health that accompanies symptomatic HIV infection often has a profound negative impact on employment and personal finances. However, research to date on the financial consequences of AIDS has focused largely on middle-class working individuals, and cannot account for the experiences of those who are already poor and unemployed at the time of their infection. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 33 Californian heterosexual couples in which one partner was infected with HIV and the other was HIV-negative. Most couples interviewed were low-income, marginally housed, and either former or active substance users. Unlike their middle-class counterparts, it became clear through the course of our study that many participating couples were living in a world in which a positive HIV antibody test or an AIDS diagnosis could result in an improved quality of life by allowing for increased access to Supplemental Security Income, subsidized housing, food and services. This situation is in part a consequence of recent policy decisions related to the 'War on Drugs' and welfare reform. These policies have contributed to the creation of an economy of poverty in which the sick, needy, and addicted must compete against each other for scarce resources. Within such an economy, an HIV or AIDS diagnosis may actually operate as a commodity


Crane, J., Quirk, K., & Van Der Straten, A. (2002). 'Come back when you're dying:' The commodification of AIDS among California's urban poor. Social Science and Medicine, 55(7), 1115-1127. DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00252-0