DR. HOOK- No shame: Take the stigma out of HIV

Sex ruins everything. Or should I say, most people ruin anything remotely related to sex. Even on I Love Lucy, 1950s TV censors struck out the word "pregnant" several times. Holy Babalu! You mean Desi had sex with Lucy and produced an embryo? Maybe the censors should have renamed the show I Love Lucy– from a Distance. That really would have made Lucy cry, "Waaaaaah!"

   A PG-rated movie can show a thousand people getting murdered with enough blood spurting out to feed a village of vampires, but when there's sex on the screen, the movie rating goes up to NC-17. What happened to the hippie saying, "Make Love, Not War"?

   HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is as popular as Rosanne Barr singing the National Anthem to GW Bush at the White House. There's an enormous stigma about having HIV– because it can be considered a sexually transmitted disease. For example:  have you heard any celebrities talking about their genital herpes or syphilis? Yet, we see commercials with Bob Dole talking about his erectile dysfunction (ED) to sell pills– and that isn't a disease you catch from sex. If gonorrhea were associated with ED, I highly doubt any celebrity would advertise for ED medications.

   December 1 marks World AIDS Day. The United Nations met in Geneva on November 21, 2006 to discuss their concerns over the growing global epidemic of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which is caused by the HIV virus). Since HIV/AIDS was described in 1981 among MSM (men who have sex with men), it has become as lethal as the Bubonic plague of the 14th century or the influenza pandemic of the early 1900s.

   Twenty million people have died of AIDS, which is the same as the combined population of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee. The population of these four states plus that of North Carolina, Georgia, and D.C. comes out to about 39.5 million people-– the number of people in the world currently living with HIV. Could you imagine the public outcry for help if all these places were completely filled with persons with HIV?

   Every day about 13,000 people become infected with HIV– mostly women and minorities. Each day, 1,500 babies are infected with HIV from their mothers during pregnancy/delivery. Fifteen million children are currently orphaned because of AIDS. This is as happy as the ending of an opera.

   Education has been shown to be effective in many regions in reducing the spread of HIV, but funding and interest usually dwindle– and HIV transmission increases again. It is like that U2 song, "How long, How long must we sing this song..." 

   The UN report states "Knowing your epidemic and understanding the drivers of the epidemic such as inequality between men and women and homophobia is absolutely fundamental to the long-term response to AIDS..." In this country, HIV is taboo to many people because it's associated with homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and prostitutes, oh my!  (Sorry, Dorothy.) 

   What people don't realize is that an infection is an infection. There should be no shame because of an infection. Sure, there are higher risk behaviors that can lead to catching an infection– like sharing a handkerchief with someone who has a cold. But you don't shame someone for getting sick. Do we say, "I'm glad he had a heart attack since he smoked"?

   Those who have died from AIDS or are living with HIV include Arthur Ashe, Rock Hudson, Magic Johnson, Gia Carangi, Robert Reed, Ryan White, Halston, Herb Ritts, Freddy Mercury, and Rudolf Nureyev– to name a few. Your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors might be holding a secret from you because of the stigma. Get the word out, and let's defeat HIV.

For more information visit worldaidscampaign.net.

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