The perception of HIV/AIDS has dramatically shifted in the last three decades. While around 67,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with HIV, many advocates believe the subject is losing its momentum — they’re afraid people have stopped caring.
At the height of the North American AIDS pandemic in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a great panic that resulted in labelling the disease as a death sentence and stigmatizing its carriers.
But now, with new advancements in medicine and increased survival rates, AIDS has drifted from the spotlight. HIV has been pushed down the list of dangers for Canadians, and as a result the urgency of using protection and getting tested for the disease has lessened. The truth remains that many people living with HIV don’t know they have it, so awareness is crucial to stopping the spread of the disease.
These changing concerns over HIV are due, in part, to a lack of publicity. High school health classes tend to lump HIV/AIDS with other sexually transmitted diseases without emphasizing that with HIV/AIDS, there’s no cure. This lack of fundamental education affects how Canadians perceive HIV/AIDS and could be a contributing factor in why people aren’t getting tested.
The government is partly responsible for educating the population about the risks associated with HIV/AIDS through public campaigns. But with our culture’s short attention span, priority seems to be given to whichever “hot topic” disease comes next. The recent outbreaks of avian flu and H1N1, though not nearly as dangerous as HIV, were unreasonably sensationalized, leaving little attention to be spent on ongoing concerns like HIV.
Promotion and awareness also comes from companies with a vested interest in protecting people from disease. Unfortunately, promotional support probably won’t come from pharmaceutical companies. Without a vaccine to sell, big pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t gain profit from publicizing the dangers of HIV/AIDS, like they have for other diseases like the human papillomavirus. Condom companies, however, could stand to gain monetarily from pushing the dangers of the disease, but likely wouldn’t want to associate their product with a negative health risk.
Treatment and infection rates have changed a lot since the AIDS scare of the ‘80s, and society has changed with it. But even though the disease is no longer a death sentence, neglecting to acknowledge the disease’s dangers is only playing with fire. As a result, it is clear that stronger awareness campaigns and more accessible information about HIV/AIDS is needed in the public sphere.
Rapid HIV testing is available on campus through Student Health Services today, tomorrow and Dec. 3. For more information email email@example.com.
—The Gazette Editorial Board