- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Just days before the nation’s capital hosts the XIX International AIDS Conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a major ad campaign to combat what it characterizes as “the two major obstacles to HIV prevention — stigma associated with the infection and complacency about the epidemic.”

Of course, there is a third obstacle — the stigma and complacency associated with abstinence — but more on that later.

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For now, let’s appreciate the current campaign for what it’s worth.

That prevention has been deemed a worthy phalanx against HIV/AIDS is a godsend, since for too long we mistakenly focused on who was susceptible to HIV/AIDS instead of how to prevent for the sake of all God’s children.

Indeed, the CDC’s national campaign, dubbed Let’s Stop HIV Together, takes a stark look at the broad swath of HIV-infected Americans, who are brown and black and white, heterosexual and homosexual, mothers and children, male and female.

“In the fight against HIV, stigma and complacency are among our most insidious opponents,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “This campaign reminds us that HIV affects every corner of society, and that it will take every one of us — regardless of HIV status, gender, race or sexual orientation — working together to stop this epidemic.”

The campaign, announced Monday, features people living with HIV and puts all of us on the spot. The CDC is using print, online and outdoor ads, and it will employ a favorite of young people and Internet-obsessed adults — Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

The campaign targets six heavily affected cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Washington — and will include 21 others later in the year.

Empirical evidence points up the need to combat complacency and stigma: A 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows that the proportion of Americans who saw or read about HIV in the United States fell by nearly half from 2004 to 2011. And that means too many of us may not even be aware of the epidemic, which infects an estimated 50,000 Americans each year, or their own risk of infection.

Incarceration, promiscuity and adultery, intravenous drug use, cultural misnomers like MSM (men having sex with men on the “down low”) all tempt fate.

Enter the faith community: On Friday and Saturday at Howard University, an estimated 500 global faith-based leaders will convene a precursor to the AIDS conference, focusing on health, dignity and justice.

Hosted by the Balm in Gilead and the National Faith in Action Coalition, participants of many faiths will discuss ways to fight the stigma of HIV/AIDS from the ground up.

And it, too, is an honorable fight.

As someone old enough to remember when people didn’t want the word “cancer” used in an obituary for fear of being stigmatized, I find this truly humanitarian confab welcoming.

In a word: The ongoing battle against one of the nation’s worst public-health epidemics has had President Obama on the same side since spring, when he proposed funding abstinence programs as part of comprehensive sex-education policies.

Condoms serve a purpose and being aware of your status and seeking effective medical treatment do, too — as many of the faces in the CDC ad campaign prove (https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/LetsStopHIVTogether2012-Graphics.html#LetsUs).

But let’s hope the CDC’s ad campaign doesn’t take as long to evolve as Mr. Obama’s position.

The “A word” — abstinence — shouldn’t be stigmatized by the government or by individuals.

As the CDC campaign explains, HIV does not discriminate.

People do.

Ending complacency means embracing abstinence.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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