Friday, December 29, 2006

I am usually very pleased with the press coverage of the NY Times, but when it comes to HIV/AIDS issues, I often think they do more harm than good in their coverage when they oversimplify things to the point that the reader can become confused without knowing it. This past week, there were two such examples.
First, there was the editorial about the high rate of malaria among people with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The editorial ultimately was pushing for more research into treatment for malaria (that's a no-brainer), but the repetitive "HIV/AIDS/Malaria" mantra does a disservice to both HIV/AIDS and Malaria challenges. Of course there is a higher rate of malaria among people impacted by HIV/AIDS: people in the latter category have compromised immune systems. Plus, we know well that the poor are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS because of a lack of education, lack of testing and prevention resources, and a daily desparation that places them at greater risk to exposure, as well as cultural practices (such as group circumcisions without adequate sterilization practices; this too seemed to be "news", as an article appeared about traditional cultural practices like shared breast-feeding responsibilities in some tribes was spreading HIV/AIDS, and this was a surprise to "experts"). Many of these same folks cannot afford mosquito netting or anti-malarial medication; combined with the compromised immune systems, the higher rates of malaria (as well as jsut about any other condition) should be expected and a surprise to no one. The damage, from a media perspective, is the melding of HIV and malaria, rather than using these connection to better understand both and how they are different. We already know from my work that the majority of people here in the US (including nurses and healthcare providers) don't know the four body fluids that transmit HIV, so when the media adds malaria to HIV, without truly clarifying and appreciating how they are spread, this is only going to get worse. The behavioral, cultural and transmission issues are vastly different.
The other news was that circumcised males have far lower rates of HIV than uncircumcised males. Fantastic! But, in the NYTimes article about this, the word "prevention" was connected with this news. To this I shout "DANGER!" If people think that because they are circumcised, they have to take less precautions, we are on a slippery slope to a no good place.
Every day, it seems clearer to me that we need a serious session of re-defining what we are talking about. The paradox is that we seem to need a simplification of definitions (such as HIV as a disease of body fluids so that no one is surprised when they read that shared breast-feeding is spreading HIV) in order to better understand it in all its complexities and ultimately end the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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