May 5, 2009
Americans are increasingly complacent about the spread of HIV/AIDS and yet continue to stigmatize the disease, recent reports suggest.
Just 6 percent of the respondents considered HIV/AIDS to be the nation's top health problem, compared to 44 percent who pegged it at the number-one spot in 1995, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With the national sense of urgency about AIDS and overall attention to the epidemic declining, "all the arrows are moving in the wrong direction," said Kaiser President Drew Altman.
The Kaiser survey, based on a nationwide telephone poll of 2,500 adults in early 2009, also found widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.
In a separate survey, the New York-based nonprofit Public Agenda recently asked young adults in the city about their attitudes toward interacting with HIV-positive wait staff or professionals such as dentists. "Risk assessment is still off in these areas," said Public Agenda researcher Jonathan Rochkind. Some respondents indicated they were "very concerned" about such encounters, he said, "even though they told me point blank, a mere 15 minutes before, that you do not get HIV through casual contact."
One positive note for AIDS activists from the Kaiser survey is that Americans generally support increased government spending to combat the disease.
The Obama administration in April launched a public awareness campaign to improve Americans' knowledge of the disease. The administration is working with local groups to address the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, said Jeff Crowley, the newly named director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.
"One of the ways we can help to address stigma is to normalize [HIV]," Crowley said. A goal of these efforts is to protect civil liberties so that persons with HIV do not fear violence and discrimination, he said.