Focus on Terrorism Threatens to ‘Overshadow’ Anti-AIDS Efforts, Two Pieces Say
The fight against HIV/AIDS could be "completely overshadowed" by the United States' new focus on combating terrorism, a Journal of the American Medical Association "Perspectives" piece reports in today's issue. Speaking via video to a Philadelphia conference on public health and human rights held two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, human rights advocate Michael Kirby said that the events of that day "are going to make more difficult the struggle for human rights, human dignity and the human right to health." Kirby, a justice of the High Court of Australia, told the 350 conference attendees that the protection of human rights "is the most likely way to win the confidence of those at risk for disease," especially HIV. By "engendering" the trust of those at risk, one increases the "likelihood that prevention strategies will be followed." However, he warned that such prevention programs are at risk because "[e]normous amounts of capital will be spent on the armaments of war" instead of on public health initiatives. "(Terrorism) is threatening very substantially the resources we need to fight a pandemic that will threaten the lives of 100 million people in the next 20 years," Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said.
According to JAMA, Kirby noted that this shift in funding and resources coincides with rising complacency about HIV prevention. "New studies in the United States show alarming levels of new HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men, particularly African Americans," he said, adding that similar increases have been seen in Australia. Misconceptions about HIV and discrimination against those with the virus are also on the rise. A 1997 survey of 1,700 Americans found that 28% respondents thought that people who contracted HIV through sexual contact or illegal drug use "got what they deserved," compared to 20% who had this opinion in 1991. Surveys of 670 people in 1991 and 1999 found that the percentage of people who thought HIV could be contracted through casual contact also increased over the decade. "Those who believe that HIV can be spread by casual contact are probably more likely to fear contact with people with AIDS and may be more willing in the future to support punitive policies that violate the human rights of people with AIDS under the guise of protecting the public health," Gregory Herek, a psychologist at the University of California-Davis, said. Increased resources are needed to battle the rise in misconceptions about the disease to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, JAMA says (Voelker, JAMA, 11/7).
Not the Time to Ignore AIDS 'Catastrophe'
"Before Sept. 11, an exhilarating momentum had emerged to put a stop to the untold human suffering [caused by AIDS] and the massive wave of deaths sweeping the world's poorest nations," a group of St. Michael's College students associated with the Student Global AIDS Campaign and the Health GAP Coalition write in an op-ed appearing in the Vermont Rutland Herald. However, that momentum "is now in danger," they state. "Since Sept. 11, the world's attention moved from the ongoing crisis of the [AIDS] pandemic to the acute crisis of war, and policymakers are rightly attuned to new security threats. However, there is no conflict between dealing with terrorists and dealing with AIDS -- in fact, appropriate funding for AIDS efforts is exactly the sort of humanitarian leadership that engenders good will toward the United States in a time when good will is an urgent need," they state. They call on Congress to support an initiative backed by a bipartisan group of representatives to donate $1 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. "We must not let our reaction to the worldwide suffering return to silence. ... As the richest country in the world, we should now refuse to leave aside immense preventable suffering that threatens the fabric of nations," they continue. "President Bush and the congressional leadership must demonstrate that the grief and fury of a nation extends to the quiet, sustained tragedy of AIDS," the students conclude (Vermont Rutland Herald, 11/1).