Myths of AIDS

I still recall when I was eight and playing “Hide and Seek” with a bunch of kids. One boy caught a girl and kissed her on the cheek, and then ran to his mother and told her what had happened. “Mommy,” he said, “can I get AIDS?”

As juvenile as this may now seem, it portrayed a reality we are still facing today: everyone has heard of AIDS but many, regardless of age, are ill informed about it. And to make things worse, out there in the big world there are some interesting, if shocking, myths about it:

 

1. A man can cure himself from AIDS if he has sexual intercourse with a virgin.

This belief is held among many in Southeast Asia and Africa, and has very severe consequences. The local sex industries are encouraged to buy young virgin girls from poor families – not surprising considering that in Cambodia alone, more than 50,000 women and children are traded annually in the poverty stricken country’s sex industry.

Globally, the U.S. State Department estimates that there are more than one million children traded in the sex industry every year. Though the numbers alone may be appalling, hearing personal stories is even more outraging. Recently there was extensive media coverage of the case of a six year old Cambodian girl who was sold by her parents as a virgin when she was only 5, traded, abused for one year, and then brought to a shelter where she could finally receive the love and warmth of a home.

But this is not a story with a happy ending: the young girl has been diagnosed with AIDS. In the realms of poverty, myths and greed, an innocent girl is paying with her life, or what is left of it. No, AIDS is not cured through intercourse with a young virgin. But pedophilia could be “treated” through prolonged imprisonment.

 

2. Social contact with an infected person can transmit HIV.

The numbers of AIDS patients ostracized by society are too numerous in a world that has presumably learned how HIV is transmitted. The most helpless victims are children who were born with HIV, passed on from their mothers, and then abandoned, left at the mercy of strangers on the streets.

The recent death of a Jesuit priest who founded the first orphanage for HIV-positive children in Kenya has brought some attention to the good deeds of a man who fostered children abandoned by their families because of their illness. Although two million Kenyans have AIDS – out of a population of 33 million – the percentage of those infected is significantly lower than in other African countries, marginalizing them even more. Other African countries have much higher percentages of people infected with HIV: from Zimbabwe with 20.1%, to Botswana with 24.1% and the highest in Swaziland, with 33.4%. In these countries the average child loses at least one parent to AIDS, and normally becomes a victim of the virus too. No, caring and providing for them would not infect you with HIV, but would be a generous humanitarian act.

 

3. There is a vaccine for AIDS.

Unfortunately, as of January 2007 there is still no vaccine against AIDS. Research is being done on the subject, and significant discoveries have been made. Last year it was proven that there is at least a 60% reduction in HIV infections among circumcised men. The research had been conducted by the French Agence Nationale de Recherches sur le SIDA on male subjects from Kenya and Uganda.

It has also been proven that African prostitutes who have been continuously exposed to the virus without contracting it in the first two years of exposure do not contract it afterwards, thus suggesting immunity to HIV.

Analyzing these facts has helped scientists draw revealing conclusions about the nature of the virus. At the same time, more money than ever is invested in research. In 2008 the trial results of the most advanced AIDS vaccine are expected, according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. But for now there exists no effective vaccine against HIV or AIDS.

 

There are many other myths regarding AIDS. Accessibility of information is important in slowing the spread of AIDS. And, a bit more care and empathy for those who have already contracted HIV can further stop the spreading of the virus. What you do not know, can hurt you.

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