Guest columnist: Amanda Stem, WNCAP Advocacy Supervisor
CNN ran an opinion article with the headline: “Could Zika be the next HIV?” Media coverage on Zika cites HIV as a comparison. Both viruses have commonalities: suspected African origins, both can be transmitted sexually, and the Zika virus may impact the South where the Zika carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito likes to linger. Coincidentally, the Southeast has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the US. The similarities stop there.
From the beginning, HIV was stigmatized. HIV was seen as a gay-specific disease, while those who didn’t fit the AIDS stereotype believed they were immune and immortal. This way of thinking brought a lot of stigma to the LGBT community, which still exists today. Society viewed HIV as a punishment, a moral undoing, for sexual promiscuity. This stigma filtered into other marginalized communities: sex workers, people who inject drugs, African-Americans. Stigma and fear of HIV/AIDS led to many people dying alone. Nurses and doctors refused to treat patients with AIDS. Families cut ties with kin if they were known to be infected. Despite science, people were still fearful of touching someone with HIV/AIDS.
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