HIV/AIDS Prevention: Do We Really Care Anymore?

I remember the anxiety and sometime hysteria about AIDS in the ’80s.  The initial identification of AIDS as a “gay disease” was soon countered with the information that you could also  get it through heterosexual sex, as well as from tainted needles and blood transfusions. Everyone became paranoid about getting the disease. Disinformation was everywhere: you couldn’t get it if you were a woman, or straight; you could get it from sweat, or a toilet seat.

The Reagan Administration was slow to respond to the crisis. In fact, the Surgeon General at the time, Everett C. Koop, was forbidden to bring it to the public’s attention. He finally did anyway and dissemination of information about how to prevent it followed. Other than avoidance of all sexual contact, the only way to prevent the transmission of AIDS was to use a condom. Koop, who was a committed Christian, saw no problem with saying so.

And then came abstinence-only sex education, which, as you should know, not only teaches abstinence as the only absolutely sure way to prevent pregnancy and STDs (a fact which can’t be argued with), but also refuses to disseminate any information about birth control methods…unless it is misleading. (Such as the “fact” that condoms fail 31% of the time to prevent HIV/AIDS infection.) That’s because abstinence-only sex education relies on scaring kids out of having sex. If nothing works to prevent pregnancy or STDs then it is assumed that kids will avoid sex altogether. It’s inconceivable to these “educators” that kids might go ahead and have unprotected sex, because after all “nothing works anyway.”

What abstinence-only sex education does is erase any frank talk about sexual issues. The message that sex outside of marriage is bad has even affected those who are presumably old enough to make their own decisions about sex. Young women especially are afraid to carry condoms or ask their partners to use them because they think it makes them look “fast.” If sex just “happens,” they can convince themselves that they didn’t mean for it to, therefore they’re still “good girls.”

The upshot is that HIV transmission has, after falling dramatically since the ’80s, begun to creep up again (for instance, a 15% increase between 2004 and 2007), and other STDs like syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia are also on the rise. Even though HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was, it is still no picnic to live with, is very expensive to treat, and can still be fatal.

As part of the new health care reform, the federal government has committed to spending $50 million annually for the next five years on abstinence-only sex education. I say this is at best ill-advised, and at worst, fraudulent. Abstinence-only education shouldn’t even be called “education;” it is nothing more than indoctrination. But apparently our government thinks it’s a good idea to tell our children nothing substantive about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS and other STDs (not to mention unwanted pregnancy) continue to plague our society. But, hey, that’s okay. At least people aren’t doing it on purpose.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports;  an article in the June 2010 issue of The American Prospect magazine (you have to be a subscriber to read the whole article online).

The Red Pump Project

Put this on YOUR blog!

To publicize National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (which is tomorrow, March 10th), two women, Karyn of The Fabulous Giver and Luvvie of Awesomely Luvvie, came up with the idea of the Red Pump Project. The concept is simple: Rock the Red Pump on your blog to represent the strength and courage of women fighting HIV/AIDS or affected by the disease both directly and indirectly. By inserting their logo on your blog, you help to spread the word about this worthy cause.

The Red Pump Project wants people to be informed and to take action. While progress has definitely been made in the areas of AIDS prevention and treatment (note that there is no cure), women still represent 27% of all new AIDS diagnoses, with African-American women accounting for 66% of that total. (That’s just in America. In Africa, AIDS strikes far more women than men: 75% of all Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 who are HIV-positive are women.*)

To sign up for future information and/or get a widget to put on your blog, go here.

* Source here.

Death Penalty For Gays?

Black Gay MovementA Huffington Post article on December 8, 2009 reported that legislation has been proposed in Uganda that would impose the death penalty for some gay Ugandans and put their family and friends in jail for up to seven years if they fail to report them. Gay rights activists contend that this bill is part of a reaction to Africa’s gay community becoming more vocal.

The article explains that “the Ugandan legislation in its current form would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. ‘Serial offenders’ also could face capital punishment, but the legislation does not define the term. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act faces life imprisonment.” In addition, “anyone who ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality’ faces seven years in prison if convicted. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years and anyone with ‘religious, political, economic or social authority’ who fails to report anyone violating the act faces three years.”

Opponents point out that the bill signals a return to the brutal regime of Idi Amin, which would throw citizens in prison for life for merely touching another person in a gay way and put them to death if convicted of a crime called “aggravated homosexuality.”

Uganda is only one of several African nations who are criminalizing homosexuality, which they say is increasing because of “foreign influences.” High school teacher David Kisambra says that “the youths in secondary schools copy everything from the Western world and America. A good number of students have been converted into gays. We hear there are groups of people given money by some gay organizations in developed countries to recruit youth into gay activities.”

However, apparently there are also foreigners who are encouraging the Ugandan government’s homophobic reaction. According to the article,  “The measure was proposed in Uganda following a visit by leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries that promote therapy for gays to become heterosexual. However, at least one of those leaders has denounced the bill, as have some other conservative and liberal Christians in the United States.”

Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show, debated the point with Richard Cohen, author of Coming Out Straight. Here is a video of their exchange:

Health officials are concerned because they fear this will hinder efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. See “Stigma Driving AIDS Crisis Among African Gays.” I remember the AIDS hysteria in the U.S. in the ’80s. One of the most appalling things I heard during that time was that AIDS was God’s way of getting rid of homosexuals. The problem is, AIDS is also spread by men to women and is in fact the leading cause of death among African men and women. (The African Region has 11% of the world’s population, but an estimated 60% of people with HIV/AIDS.) Source: World Health Organization.

The only way to combat this disease is to let homosexuality out of the closet, not put it in prison.