HIV/AIDS: Destroying the myths

World AIDS Day, 1st December 2014

Upon its discovery, many believed that AIDS was a disease engineered specifically to combat the homosexual agenda; a way of ‘God’ determining that homosexual relations were wrong. It was 1983 when the AIDS epidemic became well profiled in the UK. After the discovery of AIDS infected blood being used in blood transfusions, there was a vast amount of media speculation on the issue. It became clear that more homosexuals were being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS than any other group. This led some newspapers to call the disease the “Gay Plague”, as stated in the Daily Telegraph in 1983. It was in September of that year that gay men were asked not to donate blood due to their susceptibility to the illness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), at this point, there were only seventeen cases of AIDS in the UK, compared to 2,868 cases in the USA alone.

Due to the lack of knowledge of the disease, many patients were isolated and treated like they were a radioactive isotope that should never be touched. Further stigma began to develop against the LGBT community, particularly male homosexuals. The Times in 1984, for example, suggested the freedom of homosexuals was the reason that this disease was becoming widespread. They described it as: “gay liberation [becoming] advertised, even glorified as acceptable public conduct, even a proud badge for public men to wear”, which they believed was something that should only be “tolerable in private circumstances”.There was a belief that HIV could be contracted through simple touch, and efforts to overcome this misconception were difficult to make due to the media overdrive on “gay-related immune deficiency”. The WHO’s statistics suggested that by 1985 around 275 cases of AIDS were reported in the UK.

By 1987, members of the royal family, particularly Princess Diana, attempted to overcome some of the stigmas and misconceptions relating to the AIDS virus. One example is a quote from the AIDS Newsletter in April 1987, where an AIDS victim stated that: “She still shook my hand without her gloves on. That meant more to me than anything else… It proves you can’t get AIDS from normal social contact.” There were further reductions in prejudice when the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, made a statement about how he was HIV positive. Although he died the day after giving the statement, it was noticed that the prejudice surrounding the AIDS crisis began to reduce. The number of cases of AIDS had risen to 7,045 in the UK by 1993, with one in six of these cases being caused through heterosexual intercourse.

As time went by reports on the AIDS epidemic began to reduce due to it no longer being of ‘public interest’. However, a report published by Public Health England in 2013, called HIV in the United Kingdom, shows that HIV and AIDS is still an issue within England. They estimated that around 100,000 people were living with HIV, with 490 deaths relating to HIV occurring in 2012 alone. They identified that more males were contracting HIV than women, but that there were still a large number of women with the virus.

Sadly, prejudice does still exist. There is still a false belief that AIDS is a disease that only affects homosexuals. Some religious groups feel that it is part of ‘God’s’ plan to prevent gay marriage. However, this is simply not the case. Whilst most of the members of society that are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are homosexual males, there is still an abundance of heterosexual males and females that have contracted the virus. In fact the majority of those diagnosed with HIV in the USA in 2010 were heterosexual, according to the AIDS Organisation in 2011.

Stigma and prejudice is still present due to fear. Added to this, HIV and AIDS are both commonly associated with polygyny. Society as a whole tries to dismiss the existence of polygyny and focus on monogamy. It may be due to the fact that the virus is commonly associated with ‘sleeping around’ that a stigma exists. However, it could also be due to misinformation. There were a vast amount of publications during the 1980s and 90s that labelled the issue the “Gay Plague” or the “Homosexual Disease”. It is possible that the false idea that only homosexuals can get the disease is something that remains ingrained in society. However, with time, as the virus is treated, prevented, and more is understood, it is possible that the stigma and attitudes will change.

HIV and AIDS can affect anyone. It is not based on race, culture, age, or sexuality. To protect yourself against HIV and AIDS it is always beneficial to wear protection during sexual intercourse. Condoms can be freely supplied by colleges and their welfare teams, so ‘price’ is not an excuse to not use them. Also, the GUM clinic at the University Hospital of North Durham does supply free contraceptives and STI tests. In order to get tested you can go to GUM clinics, where you can get the results usually within 2 weeks. If you do not feel comfortable with this option, you can buy a home test kit or over-the-counter products.

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