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The Daily Tar Heel

CDC Fighting Ignorance About HIV/AIDS

A public opinion survey showing evidence of a stigma toward victims of HIV and AIDS appears in this week's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to a CDC press release, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS result from a lack of information about the disease.

The press release also states that many people avoid HIV/AIDS tests because they are under the impression that the disease will not affect them.

Survey results state that nearly one in five people - 18.7 percent - agreed with the statement "People who got AIDS through sex or drug use have gotten what they deserve."

The survey also indicated that of the 18.7 percent, 25 percent are under the false impression that HIV can be transmitted by sharing a glass or being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person.

HIV primarily is transmitted through sexual intercourse, prenatal exchange, blood transfusions and needle sharing.

Matt Ezzell, coordinator of community education at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, said HIV stigma is a significant problem. "No one deserves to get a sexually transmitted disease."

Ezzell said more education about the disease is needed.

"Knowledge is power, and the more we know about the realities of these problems that are affecting us, the less power these problems have over us," he said.

Emily O'Barr, UNC coordinator of human sexuality programs, said the stigma results from a common belief that AIDS will not affect one's life.

"People don't think that they're going to get infected with HIV and are therefore willing to make judgments about other people," she said.

The high percentage of gay men with HIV/AIDS adds to the stigma, said Kevin Brown, associate chairman of UNC's Queer Network for Change.

According to the June report, 42 percent of new infections in 1999 were among gay men and 60 percent of all infected men were gay.

"Originally, before it was called AIDS, it was given the name GRIT," he said. "And the G stands for gay."

Brown said the stigma concerning gays has faded over time, but many of his female friends do not use proper sexual protection because they do not feel they are at risk. "I think a lot of straight people still assume that they're safe from getting AIDS."

Another concern is the disproportionate percentage of minorities in the United States infected with HIV.

A report released by the CDC in June showed that of 430,411 AIDS-related deaths in the United States since the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980s, 46.7 percent were white, 35 percent were black and 17.3 percent were Hispanic.

But blacks and Hispanics account for only 13 and 12 percent of the United States population, respectively.

CDC spokeswoman Kathryn Bina said the large percentage of infected minorities results from a number of factors - including lack of access to quality health care.

Caya Lewis, national health director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, echoed Bina's statements, saying adequate funds are not provided for prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in minority neighborhoods.

"(The NAACP) is working with AIDS organizations and the Congressional Black Caucus of the U.S. and minority health organizations to increase and sustain funding around prevention awareness."

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