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SIMMONS: HIV/AIDS and illiteracy are a deadly duo
As we try to straighten the tangled web we have weaved around the HIV/AIDS crisis, the nation’s capital is gearing up for a very special confab this summer, the 2012 International AIDS Conference, just as a cultural battle brews anew in America.
The chief suspects are called homophobia, stigmatizing and hedonism - and they are, to a measurable extent.
But can we not cast aspersions or talk about pleasure principles, or even sex education, poverty, gender inequality, incarceration and the everybody-know-their-status aspects?
Let’s talk instead about two obvious reasons why HIV/AIDS is running a ruinous course through America: ignorance and illiteracy. They are problems that afflict American society as a whole.
Exhibit A is a 2009 USA Today story headlined “Literacy study: 1 in 7 U.S. adults are unable to read this story,”
“A long-awaited federal study finds that an estimated 32 million adults in the USA - about one in seven - are saddled with such low literacy skills that it would be tough for them to read anything more challenging than a children’s picture book or to understand a medication’s side effects listed on a pill bottle,” the story reads.
The same year that story was published, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released several snapshots of black American afflictions:
c Blacks are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV, accounting for 44 percent of all new infections, with black men accounting for 70 percent of the estimated new infections among all blacks.
c Black women, meanwhile, accounted for 30 percent of the estimated new infections among all blacks, and the overwhelming majority of them (85 percent) acquired HIV through heterosexual sex.
Consider this, too: As the capital of the free world, the District is certainly positioned to strut its hospitality and entertainment plumage during the HIV/AIDS conference in July, but its head ought to be buried deeply in the silt of the Potomac River, since 19 percent of D.C. residents over 16 are functionally illiterate.
And you know what that means.
They are unable to read the instructions for condoms, arguably the most publicized form of HIV/AIDS prevention.
And, when it comes to their own, individual health care responsibilities, they are unable to read and comprehend complex instructions and precautionary measures on prescriptions that are given to them to arrest the development of HIV.
What’s also truly frightening is the fact that as we’ve pushed and funded for the testing of our young population for sexually transmitted diseases, that very demographic continues to leapfrog out of school while their illiterate parents look the other way.
Yet, sadly, even the educated are ignorant.
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About the Author
Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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