Why We Need to Put Prevention of HIV First and Personal Beliefs Second
HIV rates continue to drop globally, that’s what newest reports show at the World AIDS Day. The dropping rates are partially due to increased HIV awareness, knowledge about prevention, testing and efforts to make drug treatments affordable, which reduce the risk of transmission. But I’d argue that the main reason is, in fact, suspending moral judgment and instead focusing on spreading knowledge about more reliable prevention methods. Which is why the reasons behind Indiana 2015 HIV outbreak are even more outrageous.
American VP-elect Mike Pence made some questionable decisions as Indiana governor, to say the least. He wrote on his website that money for helping those living with HIV should go toward funding organizations “which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” – or in other words, the so-called “conversion therapy”. Not only that but in 2011 the House passed his amendment to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides free HIV testing but it’s fiercely opposed by a huge part of conservatives due to also providing abortions. Also against needle exchanges, it took him long enough after an extreme increase in HIV cases to allow temporary needle exchange.
Regardless of personal moral stances against homosexuality, extramarital sexual contacts and the hugely misguided belief that access to sterile syringes promotes drug use, preventing HIV is a matter of being pragmatic instead of insisting on a certain set of values, however dearly one may hold those values. Health experts’ position on needle exchange is clear – lack of access does not add to any significant decrease in intravenous drug use but it does lead to sharing of syringes and thus – transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. Much the same way, lack of knowledge about safe sex and/or abstinence-only sexual education in schools or at home does not lead to fewer sexual partners or a delay of first sexual experience, even though these are both factors in the prevention of HIV.
It’s 2016 and reliable methods do exist but they require putting prevention first and personal beliefs second. VP-elect Mike Pence sure didn’t seem to do that during his time as Indiana governor, which led to the HIV outbreak of 2015. But it’s about time health politics everywhere start reflecting the facts, regardless of moral and/or religious positions.
Educating people about the importance of safe sex doesn’t lead to promiscuity any more than providing them with sterile syringes leads to drug use. When it comes to HIV prevention it seems appropriate to adopt the “if they want to, they will do it anyway” approach and work toward spreading knowledge on proven methods because so far, it’s the only thing that really works.
by Nelly Katsarova