Over the past 25 years, the acquisition of HIV/AIDS knowledge has been extraordinary. The research and development of drug therapies has been extremely successful and that success has only been distilled by the financial obligations surrounding the pharmaceutical industry. Despite all of this progress, the most important aspect of epidemic control – prevention – has been difficult to promote.
Originally, the disease arose in an isolated population. In the United States, a sub-group of the general public were the predominant victims. As a result, the disease gained an irrevocable association with homosexuality and injection drug use. The treatment of these individuals was targeted and preventative measures focused on promoting a decrease in sexual partners, increasing advocacy for protected sex, and a somewhat conflicted campaign for clean needles.
As HIV has become recognized as a disease of the people, through it’s spread across the United States and its global affects, categorizing the victims has become a lot more difficult. In any epidemic, the public will always find a scapegoat. In the case of HIV, the blame has been passed around and depending on the region of the world, it may have settled on prostitutes, injection drug users, men who secretly engage in sex with other men, or poor men who are exposed to the disease through deviant behavior while traveling for work. These are some pretty specific groups. In contrast to the early days, people aren’t empathizing with the victims. They never really blamed rich white homosexuals in America and they’re not blaming them now in most of the world.
They’re also not blaming women.
Despite the fact that 50% of HIV infected individuals are female (Mukherjee 380), women are usually portrayed as victims of the men who transmit the infection to them. While authors such as Joia Mukherjee, Diane Richardson and Jenny Higgins all make great arguments about the victimization of certain groups and they provide copious research data to emphasize their points, I think they fall into the same trap as everyone else. By promoting the victimization of specific groups, they all continue to propagate the blame applied to other groups.
Everyone with HIV/AIDS is a victim.
That’s it. There’s no other way to explain this. The “terrible” husband who comes home from migratory work and transmits HIV to his wife is just as much a victim of the virus as his wife. He didn’t have extramarital sex with the intention of becoming infected with HIV. Whether or not he should be condemned for having extramarital sex in the first place is not a healthcare provider’s place to say.
So I propose we design a HIV/AIDS prevention plan that incorporates everyone’s good ideas while negating their judgments of who can and cannot be helped. In a study of the effectiveness and efficiency of HIV prevention programs by the CDC, the investigators found that behaviorally based prevention programs are most effective when they are supplied with sufficient resources, operate at a high level of intensity and display cultural competency. As such, I believe that continuing education and support of women’s rights and their personal advocacy is necessary. I think increasing the education of men about their susceptibility is also necessary. Giving every individual a chance to avoid infection requires cultural understanding. In collaboration with government officials, healthcare providers should advocate the promotion of laws that allow individuals – men and women – access to education and the right to choose what risky activities they engage in.
Murkherjee, Joia. Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader. Ed. by Mindy Stombler, Dawn Baunach, Elisabeth Burgess, Denise Donnelly, Wendy Simonds, Elroi Windsor. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. 379-385
HOLTGRAVE, David R., PhD, NOREEN L. QUALLS, DrPH, MSPH, JAMES W. CURRAN, MD, MPH, RONALD 0. VALDISERRI, MD, MPH, MARY E. GUINAN, MD, PhD, WILLIAM C. PARRA, MS. An Overview of the Effectiveness and Efficiency of HIV Prevention Programs. Public Health Reports 1995
Higgins, Jenny A., PhD, MPH, Susie Hoffman, DrPH, and Shari L. Dworkin, PhD, MS. American Journal of Public Health. March 2010, Vol 100, No.3. 435-445
Richardson, Diane. Rethinking Sexuality. London: Sage Publications, 2000. 127-138.