"HIV and AIDS: The Science Inside": Words to Trust on a Continuing Threat
HIV and AIDS:
The Science Inside
When the AIDS epidemic first exploded in the early 1980s, people infected by the HIV virus rarely lived longer than a couple of years. Today, extraordinary research and medical advances combined with changed lifestyles have lowered the infection rate and expanded life expectancybut still, in many communities, AIDS is an issue met with denial and stigma.
To improve public understanding of the epidemic, AAAS has begun distribution of "HIV and AIDS: The Science Inside." The book is the fifth in the association's highly praised Healthy People series. The latest volume has a global perspective, but it is being directed especially to people of color in the United States through their local public libraries.
AIDS remains among the top four causes of death for African Americans between the ages of 20 and 54, says Kirstin Fearnley, project manager for the Health People Library Project at AAAS. A recent study found African American women have a rate of new HIV infection 18 times higher than for white women.
Further underscoring the risk, a report in the 1 February 2005 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes found that, at least partly because of deep mistrust of the government, significant numbers of African Americans believe in conspiracy theories about AIDS. The report, authored by researchers from the RAND Corp. and Oregon State University, found that 53 percent of African-Americans surveyed believe an AIDS cure is being deliberately withheld from the poor. Nearly 27 percent agreed that "AIDS was produced in a government laboratory." And about 15 percent said that AIDS is a form of genocide against African Americans.
One upshot is that black men with such beliefs are less likely to use condoms to check the spread of the HIV virus, the study found. Such findings, AAAS officials say, puts a premium on material that describes the risks and countermeasures in clear, credible terms.
"With the new book, we have an opportunity as a scientific society to provide libraries and librarians and other trusted sources with the best science and the best information, which can then be distributed to the community," said Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS.
Adds Fearnley: "The goal of the book is to share the best, most up-to-date science and research that we have, with the hope that this information will help people make better decisions. We also hope that better information will become a tool for people who are trying to lower the rate of new HIV infections. But we also want to help people understand the disease, that it doesn't just target certain populations. And we want them to understand how they can lower their own risk of infection or how to live as healthy a life as possible if they've already been infected."
The Healthy People series is a five-year project supported by a $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
To order free copies of the book, see the Healthy People web site. The site also offers more information about the series and a bank of valuable public health resources.
Edward W. Lempinen
9 March 2005