This article looks at the introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) detection and its consequences in Belgium. The introduction of detection and prevention technologies against cervical cancer and the infectious agent –HPV– have redrawn the outlines of a public health problem. The systematization of HPV testing in conjunction with the advent of vaccines reflects the shift from cervical cancer management to virus prevention. While the Pap smear test detects cancer and precancerous lesions, the use of HPV vaccines is a step toward an earlier stage of prevention that has health and social consequences. The understanding of what constitutes “pathology” or what can be designated as “normal” has shifted while sometimes ignoring certain populations or expanding the characteristics of so-called “at-risk” populations. The attention or lack of importance given to certain organs and populations reveals specific norms around sexuality and gender and contributes to the construction of sexual and gender identities affected by certain diseases–gay men by anal cancer and women by cervical cancer–while other cancers such as oropharyngeal cancer are similarly present. At the same time, although social inequalities in health (SIH) account for the presence of cervical cancer, they are little taken into account by public health institutions.
- public health