Since I began volunteering at UNTIL, I have become increasingly convinced that controlling AIDS is as much a social battle as it is a scientific struggle for better treatments. Before I came to UNTIL, I assumed that the only thing that could help to control AIDS was the advancement of scientific knowledge of new treatments, but now I believe that there are social aspects that are also very key to controlling AIDS. I think that clearing stigmas and other social prejudices associated with AIDS is a big step towards controlling it.
I have found two articles from the New York Times, and I think parts of them highlight these social issues. The first article, by Donald G. McNeil Jr., published in 2011, offers a lot of helpful insight about HIV/AIDS in recent years; but the specific parts I want to highlight advocate for the severity of social stigmas associates with AIDS. According to this article, epidemics are often “driven by drug addicts, who are notoriously hard to reach, and also by groups like gay men and prostitutes who in conservative societies, lack the political [freedom] that would let them demand [treatment] and who fear police crackdowns and therefore have furtive, rapid sex — a high-risk behavior.” Examples like this make me realize how infected people are isolated by social stigmas associated with their sexual orientation or their personal choices. The dilemma of treating such people, who have trouble seeking aid, also makes me think that in order to reach and help these people, they must first be accepted and not discriminated against. The article even goes into detail about how “studies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia show that many drug users avoid clinics even when they need medical care for fear they will be turned in to the police.” Also according to this first article, Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer of the U.N.AIDS agency, says that “countries where homosexuals face jail or execution will never address their epidemics… because gay men will stay hidden.” So, if these people – drug addicts, gays, or whomever else continue to be discriminated against – it will continue to be difficult for them to seek treatment out of fear of being discriminated against and it will continue to be difficult to control AIDS epidemics.
The second article I found appeared in the New York Times last month and is also by Donald G. McNeil Jr.. In this article, he writes about the recent drop in the number of new HIV cases and AIDS deaths in British Colombia. The article investigates how British Colombia has achieved these lower numbers by interviewing Dr. Julio S. G. Montaner, director of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Once again, people whom are discriminated against for being gay or addicted to drugs come into play. The article goes into depth on how “AIDS is concentrated in two largely separate groups: gay men and drug addicts. To reach the addicts, the city opened a center where they can inject under a nurse’s supervision without fear of arrest; the nurses also offer medical care, including tests.” In this way, they provided for specific groups of people suffering from social stigmas and prejudice against them, and it’s working! I think this success advocates for how taking action against AIDS can be more effective if specific groups and stigmas surrounding them are focused on.
Since I started volunteering at UNTIL, I have been made more aware of the stigmas associated with AIDS because UNTIL takes action against these social stigmas. UNTIL does this through raising awareness and showing that people should not be discriminated against for being HIV positive or any other reason. Their primary strategy, selling bracelets, allows people to wear a symbol of their support in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and raise awareness by restarting the conversation. And UNTIL does this in a multitude of other ways, too, such as public service announcements starring celebrities. By using the familiar faces of celebrities, selling bracelets, and raising awareness, UNTIL helps let people know that HIV+ people deserve help, not prejudice: a major step in the fight to control AIDS.
UNTIL Next Time,