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The return of the red ribbon

POSTED August 27, 2010 10:45 p.m.

There are a lot of health problems in the world today.

A flu pandemic swept the world last year, prompting the cancellation of some public events and temporarily closed schools. Whooping cough is making a comeback.  And your morning eggs could be peppered with salmonella.

Despite the plethora of things to worry about, I fear that one fatal disease is in bad need of an awareness jumpstart.

Approximately 56,000 people become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) every year and more Americans than ever before are living with HIV, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate from August 2008.

Since its discovery nearly 30 years ago, HIV has claimed the lives of more than 575,000 Americans.

In an effort to renew the nation’s commitment to public awareness and research into prevention and treatment of the disease, President Barack Obama tasked the Office of National AIDS Policy with developing a strategy.

On July 13, the White House released its National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  More than anything, the goals presented in the official strategy are just common sense health care directives. For instance, a goal aimed at improving access to care includes expanding support services and increasing the number of HIV care providers.

It’s amazing to me that professionals need written goals from a White House task force to get anything done properly, but that is the way the world works.

A few of the HIV prevention goals are the most interesting — and controversial. These goals include: Creating a national campaign to increase public awareness and prevention of HIV; increase prevention efforts among youth; routinize, increase and improve testing; increase access to condoms; eliminate the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange; increase harm reduction and treatment adherence education; and improve and expand surveillance data.

While increasing access to condoms and allowing government-funded syringe exchanges are two goals that are sure to spur national and local debate, how can anyone be against more HIV awareness? Other public health problems are advertised in the same fashion as soda pop and jeans, why shouldn’t HIV be also?

No longer are trips to the local Cineplex ad-free. While waiting for the newest action-thriller or romantic comedy to begin, you must first learn that “Friends don’t let friends get the flu!” And a short drive down Golden State Boulevard or Lander Avenue will inform you in three-foot tall letters that now is the time to get a flu shot.

My colleague, Alex Cantatore, believes that HIV awareness is ignored for the simple fact that one of the primary forms of transmission of HIV is through sexual intercourse and we, as a nation, continue to cling to our Puritanical sensibilities about all things sex-related.

His theory rings true to me, however hypocritical it may be. I mean, how many television programs are focused around sex today? One the most popular TV shows this summer — “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” — revolves around teen pregnancy. Apparently, every 16-year old on the show is sexually active. And this show is tame compared to the “reality” programming that frequently shows people naked, although blurred for our protection, and having intercourse in a public hot tub.

If we, as a nation, are willing to tune in to people having sex on television, then we should be able to have adult conversations about the possible consequences of unprotected sex.

I urge everyone to learn more about HIV and AIDS prevention by visiting www.aids.gov. I also encourage parents to include information about HIV in any talk they may have with their children about sex. 

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, I will be sporting a red ribbon. Hopefully, this small reminder of what hundreds of thousands of Americans have to live with every day will inspire others to be more open to talk about the disease, and support research for a cure.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

 

 

 

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