November 30, 2015 – CBEAR co-Director Kent Messer & ERS researcher Jacob Fooks’s research on HIV stigma is discussed in an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post in recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1.
Breakthroughs in scientific medical research have prompted AIDS activists and politicians to envision “an AIDS-free generation.” UNAIDS has begun a countdown to zero: “no new HIV infections, no discrimination, and no new AIDS deaths.”
This slogan of “Getting to zero” has been the reoccurring theme of World AIDS Day for the past four years. The great news is that AIDS-related deaths can virtually be eliminated with new medications. Stopping new infections has become a realistic goal too, if persons infected with HIV get tested and treated with appropriate anti-retroviral drugs. Their viral load can become undetectable, and they have virtually no chance of infecting others.
The bad news is that achieving the goal of “no discrimination” of those infected with the disease remains elusive and threatens to undermine the progress on these other two worthy objectives. More than 30 years into the global pandemic, a combination of misinformation about how the disease is transmitted along with deep negative cultural and religious norms regarding appropriate sexual behavior undermine public health policies and programs. Sadly, people neither get tested on a regular basis nor receive anti-retroviral treatment, even when it is readily available. The rate of new infections within the US remains stubbornly at over 50,000 per year. An overwhelming reason is that the social stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is far more prevalent and profound than usually recognized.
In a recent article published by the University of Chicago Press in Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vivian Hoffman, Jacob R. Fooks, and myself show that both the unwarranted fear of contagion and the perceived association with socially undesirable behavior keep people from coming into contact with basic everyday items that were made by people who were HIV positive. Specifically, the study involved people living in 10 Kenyan villages who refused food or other common household items that had been touched by people living with HIV.