Why the Face of AIDS Isn’t a Gay Prostitute on Drugs
Also not catching on as face of AIDS: Scorpions.
Some people believe that every human being has the right to a full and healthy life. Others believe that every human being has a right to a full and healthy life—as long as they aren't gay, addicted to drugs, or a prostitute.
And then, there are those who believe that only pre-born babies are innocent enough to deserve a full and healthy life. These people are the reason that the campaign against AIDS has to focus on infected pregnant women—instead of infected pregnant women, infected drug users, infected prostitutes, and infected gay men.
AIDS activist Elizabeth Pisani drove this point home in a recent interview with VICE Magazine. Pisani is a crusader against both AIDS and the bullshit which prevents health organizations from fighting it. There are a lot of insights in this long interview with Pisani. Most interesting to me is the way the fight against AIDS has been shaped by branding issues.
The face of AIDS, Pisani argues, has been focused so exclusively on the "innocents"—like pregnant women, their unborn children, and recipients of blood transfusions—that the epidemic has been left to thrive in the most at-risk populations—like gay men, drug users, and sex workers. The problem, of course, resolves itself in the most macabre way: The epidemic eventually spreads from "the wicked" to the "innocents," who are not as isolated as the judgmental types would like to believe.
Yes, gay men, drug injectors, and people who sell and buy sex, the three groups which are more likely to get HIV, are the so-called “wicked” people. At UNAIDS we had to find a way to turn it from a “disease of the wicked” into a “disease of the innocent”. Unfortunately, in the process of trying to do that, we turned attention from the groups who most needed it to the whole population. So what we were essentially trying to saying was, “If you don't invest in prevention for these high risk groups now, then you will have a bigger epidemic—i.e. innocent women and kids—later on.” What the politicians heard, however, was, “HIV prevention blah blah blah blah innocent women and children.” It's like talking to a dog who recognizes only its name and the name of the food. Can you recollect a precise moment for this shift in perception? It was when the African epidemic really hit people's radars. In Africa all of our data came from pregnant women, and you can't have a more touchy-feely innocent group than pregnant women and their unborn babies. That was the thing that really made people think it wasn't just a disease of 'the wicked'.
The whole interview is worth a read, including Pisani's explanation for why democracies have been less proactive at fighting the epidemic: "Democracy isn't all that good at protecting the rights of minority groups who don't vote. . . . when I say public health is a fascist discipline, I mean it." Hey, maybe that finally explains President Bush's initiatives to fund AIDS work in Africa?
Photo by bryan88