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HEP Professor Publishes Article in Sociology Newsletter

Catherine van de Ruit, an assistant professor of health and exercise physiology, is a sociologist with expertise in public health, medical sociology and health disparities. As more developments and information about the novel coronavirus come forward, it has become clear that the current pandemic is following a similar trajectory when it comes to the public health response to the HIV/AIDs pandemic.

Her article, “COVID-19 Lessons from the Sociology of AIDS,” was published in the spring 2020 issue of Sectors, the newsletter of the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Development Section.

She defines the sociology of AIDs as the “legacy of research that sociologists have undertaken for the last 40 years since the first cases of AIDs appeared in the United States and the rest of the world.”

In the article, van de Ruit explains that, despite the biological differences in the two diseases, there are commonalities in certain social factors that link them and the way that they disproportionately affect marginalized populations.

One of the key points of van de Ruit’s article focuses on high-risk groups that have been identified for each respective disease, noting the critiques of this approach and how this type of categorizing lacks nuance and ignores the additional risk that minority and marginalized groups had of contracting AIDs. She additionally notes how a similar pattern has appeared in cases of COVID-19 due to lack of resources and ability to follow social-distancing guidelines that many people face.

“In a nutshell, AIDS health policy and interventions targeted high-risk patients rather than responding to the universal needs of all patients. Additionally, the most marginalized populations who, due to financial insecurity and lack of access to health care and health insurance, experience rates of morbidity and mortality more than other affluent groups,” van de Ruit explained, adding, “We see this same pattern with COVID-19. Minorities in the US experience higher rates of mortality and morbidity due to financial insecurity and disparities in access to health services and insurance.”

Van de Ruit has been pursuing this topic for nearly two decades and has been inspired by the importance of focusing on social and cultural factors to better understand the spread and management of disease.

“It is exciting to add my voice to generations of sociologists calling on medicine and public health practitioners and policy planners to consider how underlying injustices in society lead to unequal health outcomes.”

More of van de Ruit’s peer reviewed scholarly work can be found listed here. —By Mary Lobo ’15