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Public Concerns, Private Lives: New Findings on HIV/AIDS

hiv ribbonOur friends at PublicAgenda.org have published a new report: “Impressions of HIV/AIDS in America: A Report on Conversations with People Throughout the Country.”

Public Agenda is a non-profit organization that aims to “bridge the gap between American leaders and what the public really thinks about public policy issues.”

We wanted to take a minute to highlight their key findings, considering our recent post on this subject.

We showed that public concern and urgency about HIV/AIDS is down domestically, as the subject has slipped from view amongst the mainstream media.

This is true even amongst groups that are particularly at-risk for contracting the disease.

In the United States, there are an estimated 56,300 new HIV infections each year, and a total of 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

Of those infected with HIV, 21% do not know their status.

Advances in available treatments have increased life expectancy for those infected.

But, not all who need treatment have access to it: roughly half of those living with HIV are not receiving medical care for the disease.

That said, the PublicAgenda report reveals that there is still widespread apprehension about how HIV is, and is not, transmitted.

  • Even amongst knowledgeable participants, folks’ idea of how they can get HIV was overinflated.
  • People still believe that they can get HIV through skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual, or by using the same toilet seat as someone with the disease.
  • Study participants also felt that HIV is a result of a person’s individual behavior- and risk-taking- so they were less likely to believe that certain groups (urbanites, minorities, homosexuals, and youth) are more likely to be at-risk.

On the flipside, most folks reported feeling sympathetic towards HIV-infected individuals and indicated their strong support for funding and education campaigns to raise awareness about the disease.

Public Agenda recommends that future HIV/AIDS education campaigns should:

  • Help people understand that the problem has not been eliminated by advances in medication.
  • Teach people how HIV is transmitted.
  • Help people understand the benefits of public health solutions such as:
    • Increasing the rate at which people are tested for the disease; and
    • Making sure that HIV patients are able to obtain care as a way to prevent the spread of the disease, and
    • Addressing some of the underlying social issues, like low levels of education and poverty, that put individuals at greater risk.

Perhaps the President’s five-year awareness campaign, “Act Against AIDS” will take into account some of these points.

You can read Public Agenda’s full report here.

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