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Zhou, Amy (2021). "Limits of Neoliberalism: HIV, COVID-19, and the importance of healthcare systems in Malawi." Global Public Health, 16(8-9): 1346-1363.

Abstract: Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been seriously affected by HIV and now face a new pandemic – COVID-19. How have prior experiences with managing HIV prepared countries for COVID-19? To what extent has the structure of the global health field enabled or constrained countries’ ability to respond? Drawing on qualitative methods, this article examines the impact of HIV interventions on the healthcare system in Malawi and its implications for addressing COVID-19. I argue that the historical and continued influence of neoliberalism in global health manifests in the structures and routines of clinical practice. In Malawi’s health centres, a parallel NGO system of care has become grafted onto state healthcare, with NGOs managing HIV commodities and providing care to HIV patients. While HIV NGOs do support the work of government providers, it is limited to tasks that align with their programmatic goals. Outside of donor priorities, the conditions of public healthcare are left behind, and government providers struggle with shortages of staff, medical resources, and basic infrastructure. In the context of COVID-19, risks are compounded as public healthcare facilities not only struggle with resources to treat patients, but also become a site of risk itself for COVID-19 infection.

Zhou, A., Sabatello, M., Eyal, G., Lee, S.S-J., Rowe, J., Stiles, D.F., Swanson, A., Appelbaum, P.S. (2021). "Is precision medicine relevant in the age of COVID-19?" Genetics in Medicine, 23: 999-1000.

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of public health initiatives in protecting population health. Large-scale testing, contact tracing, physical distancing, and mask wearing have been effective at slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections. But given the resurgence of the pandemic in many parts of the world, finding ways to support public health efforts remains an urgent goal. As we learn more about COVID-19, it may be possible to consider more targeted ways of preventing and treating infections. Precision medicine (PM) and precision public health (PPH), which aim to tailor treatment and interventions to unique individual or population-level traits, could complement conventional public health approaches. In this commentary, we argue that PM and PPH are relevant for addressing COVID-19 but caution against too great an emphasis on this approach. “Precise” interventions need to complement efforts to strengthen public health infrastructure and address fundamental social, economic, and environmental causes of illness.


Zhou, Amy (2019). “Therapeutic citizens and clients: Diverging practices in Malawi’s healthcare facilities.” Sociology of Health & Illness, 11(4): 625-642.

Abstract: This article examines how HIV policies and the funding priorities of global institutions affect practices in prenatal clinics and the quality of healthcare women recieve. Data consist of observations at health centers in Lilongwe, Malawi and interviews with providers (N=37). I argue that neoliberal ideology, which structures the global health field, produces a fragmented healthcare system on the ground. Findings show two kinds of healthcare practices within the same clinic: donor-funded NGOs took on HIV services while government providers focused on prenatal care. NGO practices were defined by surveillance, where providers targeted pregnant HIV-positive women and intensively monitored their adherence to drug treatment. In contrast, state-led practices were defined by rationing. Government providers worked with all pregnant women, but with staff and resource shortages, they limited time and services for each patient in order to serve everyone. This paper builds on concepts of therapeutic citizenship and clientship by exploring how global health priorities produce different conditions, practices and outcomes of NGO and state-led care.



Zhou, Amy (2016). “The uncertainty of treatment: Women’s use of HIV treatment as prevention in Malawi.” Social Science & Medicine, 158: 52-60.


Abstract: In countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, antiretroviral therapy is seen as the solution to not only treat existing patients, but also to prevent the future spread of HIV. New policies for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission place women on lifelong treatment as soon as they are tested HIV positive. This article looks at how women understand this prescription for lifelong treatment. Drawing on interviews with HIV-positive women in Lilongwe, Malawi (N = 65) during July–September 2014, I examine the process of making treatment decisions, and why – despite increased access – women refuse or stop treatment. Using treatment for preventative purposes transforms the experience of HIV from an acute to a chronic condition where both the symptoms of disease and the efficacy of treatment are unclear. Women look for evidence of the cost and benefit of treatment through their personal experiences with illness and drug-taking. For some women, the benefits were clearer: they interpreted past illnesses as signs of HIV infection, and felt healthier and more economically productive afterwards. For others, taking treatment sometimes led to marital problems, and side effects made them feel worse and disrupted their ability to work. While women understand the health benefits of antiretroviral therapy, taking treatment does not always make sense in their present circumstances when there are costly physical and economic repercussions. This study builds on existing sociological research on medical decision-making by situating decisions in a broader political economy of changing HIV policies, economic conditions, and everyday uncertainty.



Zhou, Amy (2016). “Serving some and serving all: How providers navigate the challenges of racially targeted health services.” Ethnicity & Health, 22(5): 443-457.


Abstract: Objectives: Racially targeted healthcare provides racial minorities with culturally and linguistically appropriate health services. This mandate, however, can conflict with the professional obligation of healthcare providers to serve patients based on their health needs. The dilemma between serving a particular population and serving all is heightened when the patients seeking care are racially diverse. This study examines how providers in a multi-racial context decide whom to include or exclude from health programs.

Design: This study draws on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork at an Asian-specific HIV organization. Fieldwork included participant observation of HIV support groups, community outreach programs, and substance abuse recovery groups, as well as interviews with providers and clients.
Results: Providers managed the dilemma in different ways. While some programs in the organization focused on an Asian clientele, others de-emphasized race and served a predominantly Latino and African American clientele. Organizational structures shaped whether services were delivered according to racial categories. When funders examined client documents, providers prioritized finding Asian clients so that their documents reflected program goals to serve the Asian population. In contrast, when funders used qualitative methods, providers could construct an image of a program that targets Asians during evaluations while they included other racial minorities in their everyday practice. Program services were organized more broadly by health needs.
Conclusion: Even within racially targeted programs, the meaning of race fluctuates and is contested. Patients’ health needs 
cross cut racial boundaries, and in some circumstances, the boundaries of inclusion can expand beyond specific racial categories to include racial minorities and underserved populations more generally.



Kim MH, Zhou A, Mazenga A, Ahmed S, Markham C, Zomba G, Simon K, Kazembe P, Abrams E (2016).“Why Did I Stop? Barriers and Facilitators to Uptake and Adherence to ART in Option B+ HIV Care in Lilongwe, Malawi.” PLoS ONE 11(2):e0149527.


Abstract: Causes for loss-to-follow-up, including early refusals of and stopping antiretroviral therapy (ART), in Malawi’s Option B+ program are poorly understood. This study examines the main barriers and facilitators to uptake and adherence to ART under Option B+. In-depth interviews were conducted with HIV-infected women who were pregnant or postpartum in Lilongwe, Malawi (N = 65). Study participants included women who refused ART initiation (N = 10), initiated ART and then stopped (N = 26), and those who initiated ART and remained on treatment (N = 29). The barriers to ART initiation were varied and included concerns about partner support, feeling healthy, and needing time to think. The main reasons for stopping ART included side effects and lack of partner support. A substantial number of women started ART after initially refusing or stopping ART. There were several facilitators for re-starting ART, including encouragement from community health workers, side effects subsiding, decline in health, change in partner, and fear of future sickness. Amongst those who remained on ART, desire to prevent transmission and improve health were the most influential facilitators. Reasons for refusing and stopping ART were varied. ART-related side effects and feeling healthy were common barriers to ART initiation and adherence. Providing consistent pre-ART counseling, early support for patients experiencing side effects, and targeted efforts to bring women who stop treatment back into care may improve long term health outcomes.


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