Reading Assignment / HIV / Lilly Stein

The spread of HIV/AIDS virus has created one of the most significant health and development challenges in modern history. While this epidemic influences the physical health of individuals worldwide, its repercussions are felt socially and culturally as well—particularly through racial, sexual, and socioeconomic prejudices.

In a speech written by Vito Russo, for the ACT UP demonstration, he emphasizes that he is not dying from AIDs. Instead, he is dying from the prejudices that have created a division between people with AIDs and those who collectively fight, and people who fear AIDs. Russo declares that the impact of race and sexual orientation is greater than the physical implications that AIDs has had on his health. However, due of the prejudices that exist, his life with AIDs is exponentially more difficult.

Sonja Mackenzie further exemplifies these prejudices through her piece discussing stories based within the Black AIDs Epidemic. Through social narratives and accounts, Mackenzie provides a voice for those without the opportunity to share their stories. Not everyone with AIDs has the same story to tell, and differences in race and social standing provide vastly different experiences. From these accounts, she reframes individual and community risk in order to make sense of the AIDs epidemic.

AIDs is still a threat to society, however, it is not the only threat. Laurie Garret, a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, compares the newest health emergency Zika Virus to that of the AIDs impact, both in the 1970s and now. Beginning with their origins, Garret discusses how each disease had been in circulation unnoticed for long periods of time before reaching “epidemic” proportions. In addition, AIDS and Zika both were initially transmitted from animal to human—AIDs from monkeys and Zika from mosquitos. According to Garret, the similarities continue with means of transmission being sexual, as well as the lack of government funding and control. Socially, Garret notes, Zika has the potential to reach the point that AIDs has, meaning it may occur most often in minority groups who are prone to experiencing racial, gender, sexual, and socioeconomic discrimination.

Despite the differences between these articles, each represents different chapters of the same story. HIV/AIDs cannot solely be measured by the physical effects it has on a person, but also the effects the disease has on society. AIDs and corresponding prejudices have created a massive division that effects more than health. I believe it is important to stay educated and be proactive when combating these intolerances. We need to stay up to date on possible future epidemics: Who do they effect? How is it affecting? How are we responding? These questions are important in order to break down the division that injustices create.

While I do believe it is important to overcome our historic downfalls of discrimination, I do not find AIDs comparable to Zika Virus. In her article, Garret leaves out a very important piece: the effects of the disease on the person. The effects of AIDs are much more drastic. If you contract AIDs, the disease and symptoms are lifelong—you are guaranteed to get sick. The disease itself destroys your immune system. Zika’s affects can also be harmful, but solely to a growing fetus within a pregnant mom. The effects on the general population are short lasting flu-like symptoms. While I do not believe the physical effects from AIDs and Zika are comparable, it is still important to take note, and learn from, the social impacts of the epidemics.

Zika is a current priority due in part to the exposure of the 2016 Olympics being in the center of the epidemic. In addition, the lack of education and heightened media attention has brought about a public fear of the virus. Mosquitos do not discriminate. Any mosquito carrying the virus can affect any person: black, white, homosexual, low-income. As the disease matures, it has the potential to be mainly contracted through sex rather than mosquitos and therefore affecting the smaller, minority groups. This is where we have the obligation grow as a society. We have to be aware of the social implications of diseases and learn from our mistakes.

Within the AIDs epidemic, while we have a long way to go combating prejudices, we are making small strides. An additional resource I found regarding the AIDs epidemic and its effects, draws upon the impact of posters to provide education and awareness. Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of AIDs Awareness Posters 1985–2010 is a cohesive selection of 153 posters that provide insight rooted in diverse visual strategies that may be seen in a number of different cultures. These posters come from archived international AIDs awareness campaigns and from donations from the Massachusetts colleges of Art and Design. These varying design strategies are inspired by the need to speak to a number of cultures and encourages all groups to respond to this public health crisis, positively and together.

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