Opinion

When stigma stands in the way in health care

On the eve of World Aids Day, there’s hope for one of the world’s most serious pandemics.

We’ve come a long way in the battle: HIV numbers have been leveling off. We know much more about the disease than ever before, and know how to stop it. Above all, diagnosis is no longer considered a death sentence; treatment is available and most people who treat it early go on to live normal, long, healthy lives.

But we still fall desperately behind in other measures.

Just this week, a report from the Centers for Disease Control found that six in 10 young people—aged 13 to 24—living with HIV are unaware they're infected. Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 represent more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year.

There are thousands of things that can go wrong with our bodies—way too many diseases that aren’t known about until it’s too late. But HIV/AIDs doesn’t have to be one of them.

All it takes is a quick blood test. Some argue it should be a part of yearly screenings just like cholesterol tests. For doctors, it’s just one more check mark on a labwork paper, though most primary care doctors don’t test for it.

At-home testing also is now available. Though versions are still imperfect, most agree it will encourage more people to get tested. For just $40 or so, people can buy some peace of mind—and some discretion.

Organizations like the CDC have called for routine HIV testing for everyone ages 13-65, regardless of perceived risk. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week also laid out a blueprint for an AIDs-free generation. Though eradicating the disease is a far-reaching goal, the administration’s plan puts the often-shunned disease into the spotlight, and offers education to those who haven’t been affected by the disease and hope to those that have.

Like any other life-threatening and life-changing illness, early detection is vital: Getting an infected person onto antiretroviral drugs lowers by as much as 96 percent the chance that he or she will transmit the virus to someone else.

So why is testing still not happening all that often?

Perhaps the biggest problem with HIV/AIDS is the shame and fear associated with it, and it’s preventing many people from getting treated and many more from getting tested.

There’s a stigma behind the virus that’s unmatched to any other disease. If this doesn’t stop, neither will spread of the disease. Testing and treatment is crucial to prevention, but so is education.

To address a problem, we need to do just that. Fear and shame is never the right prescription for health care solutions.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

Comments

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.