Breast or Bottle? HIV-Positive Women’s Responses to Global Health Policy on Infant Feeding in India


This article describes how local responses to global health initiatives on infant feeding for HIV-positive mothers reflect and transform sociocultural values in Tamil Nadu, India. Drawing from ethnographic research conducted from 2002 to 2008, the article compares guidelines for counseling HIV-positive mothers established by UNICEF and WHO with decision-making processes and perceptions of HIV-positive mothers. In addition to the financial considerations, three factors are identified as impinging on this decision: (1) a strong sociocultural value in favor of breastfeeding linked to historical traditions and contemporary state and international development discourses, (2) constructions of class identity, (3) the influence of a rights-based discourse in HIV/AIDS advocacy. This wide range of factors points to the difficulty of implementing the international protocols. This is the first study of its kind to closely examine the complex determinants in HIV-positive women’s decisions and evaluations of infant feeding methods in India.

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