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How do medical advances affect HIV prevention efforts?

Jul 2, 1997

As an HIV Prevention Specialist, I am concerned about how recent medical advances such as Protease Inhibitors and talk about an AIDS vaccine will affect people's decision-making process regarding risky sexual practices and injection drug use. Please comment on this double-edged sword of wonderful advances for those with HIV/AIDS, and the dilemma of continued Prevention efforts.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. I am not aware of any recent study thus far, looking at the effects of recent improvements in therapy, to that of people practicing safer sex. Many in the HIV prevention field have concerns that as treatments improve, people will become less fearful of HIV/AIDS, and be less likely to protect themselves. This is an understandable concern.

Some members of the media have given the public the impression that HIV/AIDS is now a fully manageable and controllable disease. As a result of this incorrect message from the media, many people have now been given the false impression, that all one has to do is take a few pills everyday, and the disease is no longer a problem. This is sending out the wrong message to the public. For more information about this issue, see the posting, "Any Promising Medicine."

Part of what has been lacking in the safer sex prevention message, is that safer sex does not just apply to HIV. It applies to all Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). Prevention efforts have largely centered upon HIV, without discussing the other STD's as well. The media and health educators have often done a poor job of educating the public about the dangers of the other STD's. Most people incorrectly have the idea that all the other STD's are curable, and that AIDS is the only one that is serious or life-threatening. Part of promoting safer sex practices is educating the public about the dangers of the other STD's as well. Some of the other STD's are also incurable, and some are potentially fatal as well. Health educators (and the media) need to promote that safer sex doesn't just apply to HIV/AIDS. It applies to all STD's.

As more and more money is put into caring for persons with HIV/AIDS, less and less money is available for prevention. With only a limited amount of money available, as care costs rise, there is less money available for prevention services. The need for prevention now is just as important as ever. However, due to limited budgets, prevention programs are often the first to lose funding.

Prevention efforts must continue, However, in light of recent improvements in treating persons with HIV, lack of prevention money, and a public that's becoming less fearful of AIDS, prevention programs will have a more difficult time doing their jobs. For more information on a related topic, see the posting, "are we becoming complacent about aids?."

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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