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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Ignorance Is Bliss (Not!)

By Gary Bell

May 2, 2014

We're Not in 1984 Anymore, To+to

As someone working in the field of HIV/AIDS, I have had many conversations about the topic with people ranging from politicians to middle school students. However, I will never forget the recent conversation that I had with a long-term (25+ years) survivor who shared how he could manage the symptoms, the side effects of the medication and even accepting that he may not live as long as he planned; but it was the stigma that he struggled with the most. So why, at the ripe old age of 32, does the stigma of HIV/AIDS remain so devastating?

A new survey by the National AIDS Trust demonstrated how the lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, despite our access to social media and the internet, remains significant. For example:

  • 20% of the survey respondents believed that HIV/AIDS is a death sentence and that the life expectancy of a newly diagnosed person is about 10 years;
  • Over one-third of the respondents believed that people living with HIV were not allowed to work in schools, hospitals or restaurants;
  • Over 25% believed that people living with HIV are legally required to disclose their status.

After reading these results, I recalled a conversation that I had with a Miami cab driver. I often share what I do for a living, partially to gauge the reaction, but also to ascertain what they know about HIV/AIDS. I was mortified when this cab driver, who looked to be in the 25-35 year old range and was deftly welding the GPS on his smartphone to navigate, said that he knew that there was a drug to treat AIDS: AZT! For those of us even remotely familiar with HIV, to hear someone express that s/he knew of only one medication to treat it-which happens to be the first anti-retroviral medication to treat HIV/AIDS AND was introduced in 1984!

Is it fair to expect people to know more about HIV/AIDS? At what point does personal safety take over? Doesn't over 25 million deaths, with over 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS at least inspire some curiosity? I am a little biased of course, but it would certainly make my work and others like me, not to mention the lives of the tens of millions living with it a little easier if more people took the time to avail themselves of the tons of information available to them. Isn't it worth the time?

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See Also
What Does HIV/AIDS Stigma Look Like in Your Life?
More on Stigma and HIV/AIDS

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This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.


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