AIDS threat underestimated globally

Though information about HIV and AIDS has become more available in recent years, many still harbor an inadequate understanding of the dangers of the disease, a recent survey says.

The M·A·C AIDS Fund has released the results this month of a September survey based on 500 interviews in each of nine countries – Brazil, China, France, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and the U.S.

“Today, more than 25 years after the emergence of the disease, it is startling to learn that facts about HIV/AIDS are still a guessing game for much of the world,” Nancy Mahon, executive director of the M·A·C AIDS Fund, says in a statement.

Many survey respondents, for example, demonstrated confused and often conflicting understandings of the status of HIV treatment on a global scale.

In India, almost six in 10 people believe a cure for AIDS was already on the market, though almost eight in 10 say they understand that AIDS is always fatal.

Three in five older adults in France, on the other hand, believe the disease is not always fatal, a number twice as large as among the younger generations, according to survey results.

In the U.S., African Americans are twice as likely as whites to think a cure for AIDS is already available.

Respondents also were largely misinformed about the global availability of existing HIV treatments.

Though only one in five HIV-positive people worldwide are actually receiving medication, more than half of survey respondents reported believing that all who need treatment are receiving it.

China and South Africa are the only countries in which more than two-thirds of people are aware of the widespread unavailability of treatment, the study says.

Stigma and shame linked to HIV-positive status remains relatively high, with a majority of survey respondents across all countries admitting they are not comfortable interacting intimately with HIV-infected people.

Nearly half were uncomfortable working with someone who they knew to be HIV-positive, including three in 10 of those surveyed in the U.S.

Half the respondents would not want to share the same house with an HIV patient,and almost eight in 10 would not consider dating one.

The sense of shame extended to survey participants’ understanding of the ways AIDS spreads.

Three in five said they knew that “responsible” people can get AIDS, but a quarter still reported believing that only “sinful” behavior could result in an AIDS infection.

This belief was stronger in Brazil, China and Mexico, where more than six in 10 people believe “responsible” behavior will protect them from the disease.

The importance of safe sex in AIDS prevention seems to have achieved greater reach, with almost three in four respondents citing the fact that women find it difficult to talk to their partners about safe sex as a reason for spread of the disease.

But gender and regional disparities exist when gauging the seriousness of such communication issues.

In Brazil, women listed this as the top problem contributing to the disease’s spread, while men cited it as the least important cause, the survey says.

In the U.S., Britain, France and Russia, on the other hand, initiating safe-sex discussions seemed to be more of a problem for men than for women.

The M·A·C AIDS Fund, the charitable branch of Estée Lauder-owned M·A·C cosmetics, was created in 1994 to support underserved regions and populations in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

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