Brian DeGrazia
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Drug criminalisation, the Catholic Church, and the 1988 founding of a Rome AIDS care centre
in Histories of HIV/AIDS in Western Europe
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This chapter focuses on two distinguishing features of HIV/AIDS in Italy, and their intersection: the prevalence of HIV transmission via intravenous drug use in Italy, and the interventions of the Catholic Church. It uses as a case study the controversial founding by Caritas of an AIDS care centre in Rome in 1988, to serve young current or former heroin users who lacked a stable home. There is also an important international context in that the controversy that delayed the opening of the centre coincided with the passing of stricter drug legislation in the USA and the visit of Italian Socialist Party Secretary Bettino Craxi to New York and Washington to discuss related matters. Craxi soon introduced similar legislation into Italian parliament. The confluence of these events and their conflation in government and media discourse alike, this chapter argues, affected attitudes towards the care centre, and led to the effective criminalisation of HIV/AIDS in Italy.

The sources cited and analysed to reconstruct this history include print and audio-visual media from both Italy and the USA. These sources highlight Italy’s concern for its image on the international stage; the ‘activism’ of Caritas and the counter-activism of neighbourhood residents; the fears of these residents of social contagion and drug use in their wealthy area; and how all of these factors contributed to the construction of an aetiology that posited intravenous drug users as the ur-sources of HIV, outside the bounds of ‘normal’ society and the traditional Italian family.

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Histories of HIV/AIDS in Western Europe

New and Regional Perspectives

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