Anyone Heard About AIDS Lately?

By the way the news media treats it, you would think that HIV/AIDS doesn’t exist, that there’s been a cure and it’s something of a distant worry like polio or smallpox – but it’s not. In fact, the United States is the only country currently working on HIV/AIDS research that doesn’t have an AIDS strategy, however we do demand that other countries develop one. The real outrage is that there is NO outrage! There isn’t even any discussion, and that has created a great stunting in our growth as a society around those affected by HIV/AIDS.

While an estimated 270,000 individuals in the United States are HIV positive and unaware of it what about the 800,000 others who are wisely and courageously facing the battle head on? Our discussion around HIV/AIDS has been so stunted by the assumption that it is a manageable disease and the lack of comprehensive education that only focuses on prevention and the physical and completely ignores the psychological. We all know the ways of prevention, but what about the ways of living with individuals that have HIV/AIDS in our society. The 1990’s gave us so much information and so much education on not just the disease, but the people affected by it, perhaps creating the pinnacle of AIDS acceptance in our society. As of late this acceptance has turned into straight-out denial. How many among us could honestly say that we would date somebody with HIV/AIDS?

It is heartbreaking to hear the real plight of individuals with HIV/AIDS. A common theme is the need to constantly hide their HIV status or risk being treated like a pariah. Why? It’s disgusting. If instead of AIDS someone had cancer what then? They would be a hero, an unjust victim of their circumstances offered countless amounts of support. What is it that creates this trigger of fear when, in reality, HIV/AIDS is not that easy to catch. Without an identification of the trigger we have no hope of quashing this unjust stigma.

I asked a young man who is HIV positive if he could give me a better perspective on the situation:

“The amount of stigmatization I feel and have throw at me, in most cases, is much worse than my battle with HIV. Gay or straight. You go ask gay men how many are really willing to date a positive person, then divide that number by ten. The painful things I hear from the general public are much more harmful to my quality of life then any treatment I get. By the way, could you please not include my name in this, it’ll just make the witch hunt easier.

“Ya know, when you’re ill, the last thing you need is to have to protect yourself from the world around you. It seems as if the doctors, the researchers doing their amazing work, that they’re the only ones that actually look at us as people.

“The bottom line is, if I had cancer or diabetes my teachers/employers and even my friends would understand. When you’re in constant fear you can’t explain your condition due to the way people always have to put you into little boxes and categorize you.  Having to suffer all of this fear and ignorance is more likely to make me feel sick or depressed and that’s worse than any side effect from any antiretroviral or lack of a cure.”

It’s heartbreaking and sickening to think that in 2009 we haven’t moved much from the first days of the AIDS crisis. Sure, we’re addressing the physical needs and attempting to solve them, but in the process we’ve ignored the person and stressed the disease. Instead of supporting those in this struggle, we’ve turned them away. We still act as if a single sneeze or paper cut is going to get us sick all under the guise of protecting ourselves. These are people they’re not your damned statistic.  Instead we are like Plato’s allegory of the chained cave dwellers, unable to truly comprehend what they see, since they are prevented from grasping its true source and nature. It is time that we break our chains, climb through the torturous passage to the surface, and escape the cave, able to appreciate the full variety of the newly-discovered world.

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