Study: HIV attitudes vary along racial lines, Americans ill-informed in general
In a newly released study of public opinion from the Kaiser Family Foundation about HIV, researchers have found both hope and disappointment in the public’s understanding of HIV and AIDS.
The study finds that while the epidemic has been around since 1981, the public’s understanding of how the virus is spread remains poor. Of the respondents in the study, 25 percent thought one could get HIV by sharing a drinking glass with some one with HIV, 45 percent say they’d be uncomfortable having their food prepared by someone who is HIV‐positive, 36 percent with having an HIV‐positive roommate, 29 percent having their child in a classroom with an HIV‐positive teacher, and 18 percent working with someone with HIV.
In addition, the report found that the number of people getting tested for the virus has stayed relatively stable since the late 90s.
The study also found that African-Americans share the most concern about the epidemic, with whites sharing the least. Blacks were much more likely to believe HIV was a major public health issue.
As for getting information about HIV, the vast majority of respondents (76 percent) reported they got their information from the media such as television and radio.
Experts and advocates on the subject were troubled by the public’s ignorance of key facts on the subject.
“For me, the study illustrates why prevention funding should never be cut,” says Helen Hicks, chief executive officer for the Michigan AIDS Coalition. “If people think you can contract the virus from a cup or from a toilet seat, then they are in serious need of education. Prevention training, in all of its forms, works.”
“Thirty years into a global pandemic, it is seriously disheartening to hear the level of misinformation about HIV expressed by people in the US,” says Laurel Sprague, regional coordination for the Global Network of People Living with HIV, North America. “That significant portions of the population are afraid of sharing a drinking glass with an HIV-infected person, eating a meal prepared by someone with HIV, or having their children taught by an HIV-positive teacher, despite the fact that HIV is not transmitted in any of those ways, indicates the need for vastly expanded public education campaigns,”
“This report supports what I’ve seen in conversations with university students in Michigan – that most of them are provided with very little about HIV within their high schools, from public health campaigns, or from their doctors. It seems that our governments, at all levels, are abdicating their responsibility for public health,” says Sprague. “Instead, people are looking to media reports to fill in the gaps of knowledge that they need to make informed decisions about their own health. However, the nature of the media is that they will always seek out the most provocative aspects of the epidemic, so we see stories that paint HIV-positive people as threats to communities or that uncritically present the risk of HIV transmission as much higher than it actually is. As a result, individuals are woefully underinformed with alarming consequences. When HIV-positive people are painted as monsters or hedonists, other people are unlikely to be able to gauge accurately their own need for HIV testing and care and more likely to support discrimination against other members of their communities based solely on their HIV status. This kind of discrimination is seen nationally and globally as a key barrier to getting people to get tested for HIV and to accessing the medical care they need to save their lives.”
As for the report’s findings that the majority of people who did not get tested said they did not do so because they did not see themselves at risk, Hicks said the message was clear.
“It says we have failed. We are all at risk if we are sexually active or if we are injection drug users. Heterosexual women and men are at risk. The LGBT community is at risk.”