One of the biggest battles in the war against HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — involves tackling false perceptions.
This year, America bears witness to the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. Although we have made great gains, we have a long way to go before we see the end of it.
Here are five myths that simply must go if we are ever going to advance further in the war against HIV.
1. People who get HIV or AIDS will die from it.
People don’t die from HIV or AIDS. They die from its complications. Or, they die from unrelated reasons.
The most common complications include infections such as pneumonia, flu viruses and tuberculosis, because once a person’s HIV progresses to AIDS, their immune systems cannot fight against these organisms. People with AIDS can also die of cancers unique to those infected with HIV.
In 2008, nearly 700,000 people in the United States were living with HIV — 500,000 of those were living with AIDS. In that same year, 16,000 people with AIDS died in the United States, and that includes all causes — not just those related to HIV.
2. There’s a cure.
The 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson’s stunning HIV announcement passed in November. Black America thought it would be the end of Magic Johnson as we knew him, yet he appears healthy, even in 2011. However, the circulating myths that he used his millions to buy a cure is false. There is no cure.
HIV medications can suppress the virus so much that it is not detectable in the blood, and the person’s immune system functions normally. It also makes those with HIV less contagious. While that is the case with Magic Johnson, he would still test positive on an HIV test.
Again, there’s no cure.
3. “Down Low” black men give it to black women.
The statistics are very clear on this topic, andso is Dr. Kevin Fenton from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of “Down Low” black men is actually around two percent. That’s a low percentage for a phenomenon thought to be responsible for the whole HIV epidemic in black America.
Sure, there are some men who have disclosure issues. Some may misidentify themselves as heterosexual when they are probably homosexual. But, let’s not label a whole subgroup based on the behavior and hangups of a few.
The majority of black women are contracting HIV from heterosexual sex. The “Down Low” syndrome is completely overblown.
4. Seniors need not worry.
HIV among seniors is actually on the rise. An eyebrow raising 17 percent of new HIV infections come from people over the age of 50. Why?
A few reasons include younger grandmothers who aren’t done dating, the fear of pregnancy being a non-issue, the popularity of erectile dysfunction prescriptions, and senior women who share men. Seniors are not dead and they seek companionship just like their children do.
If we want to keep seniors healthy, we have to work on a respectful way to spread public health efforts to them and encourage them to still use condoms.
5. AIDS only affects “certain” people.
If you think HIV only affects the people it infects, think again. Many advocates and celebrities have shown that HIV has no barriers.
Aside from the impact on black families and the productivity of society, it also hits us economically as taxpayers, as does other chronic diseases.
The Kaiser Foundation estimates that, in 2009, federal and state Medicaid spending on HIV totaled $7.5 billion.
It would be cheaper and more effective to educate people on HIV and reduce the rates of new infections.
AIDS has been around long enough. It’s time to let go of the fear, stigma, and most of all the myths that fuel this deadly war. Eliminate ignorance. Eradicate AIDS.