The Other Disaster: Overcoming the Mythology of AIDS

Article excerpt

Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods provide dramatic footage for captivated American television viewers. But other disasters are less telegenic. HIV/AIDS steals lives one by one, often in the dark and dingy corners of the world where no camera is waiting to record the end of a struggle against a brutal killer.

Although it is rarely found on the front pages of newspapers, it continues to sweep away nearly 8,000 lives each and every day. Even more distressing, another 13,000 individuals are infected daily.

Why does it get so little attention? Partially because it lacks the drama we seem to crave in our media-bite-driven world. But another reason is that myths about HIV/AIDS continue to flourish, confusing and dissipating our response to those in need.

As people of faith stand on the front line of this disaster, we must educate each other about the facts so that we can respond out of concern and knowledge. Some of the most common myths about HIV/AIDS include:

MYTH 1: HIV/AIDS occurs mostly in men. Sadly, as many women as men are now infected with HIV worldwide, and the trends are alarming. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly two-thirds of those infected are women, with women ages 15 to 24 being three times more likely to contract HIV. Even in countries where the rates are still higher among men, the rate among women is increasing steadily.

The reasons for this are biological, economic, and cultural. A double standard continues to thrive: An infected man will go on to infect between two and 20 women (or girls) during a decade of latent infection, before he even shows symptoms. And women are more economically vulnerable, especially when they have children and must find a way to provide for them.

MYTH 2: HIV/AIDS is mostly a problem in Africa. HIV infections are now reported in every country in the world. China, where the statistics are not verified, has a skyrocketing rate that could eclipse much of the rest of the world due to the size of its population. Russia has a growing rate primarily due to intravenous drug usage. India has the highest infections rate outside of Africa.

Sadly, it may have been easy to ignore the problem in Africa because so few countries on that continent are significant trading partners with the United States. But India and China, for example, will be severely impacted by the growing infection rate, potentially leading to economic and even political instability. …