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More on the rural face of AIDS

Dear Editor:

I am a professional mental health provider who has worked with individuals living with HIV/AIDS in both urban and rural settings since 1990. While your article did attempt to present a well-rounded, educative perspective on HIV/AIDS in southwest Colorado, I think it failed in two important respects.

First, most casual readers would have concluded from reading your article that HIV/AIDS has been and continues to be a “gay disease.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Unlike the rest of the world, where HIV began in the heterosexual community and spread into the gay male community, in the United States infection did initially gain attention in gay male circles. However, the fastest growing numbers of new HIV infections worldwide and in the U.S. is and has been among heterosexual women and their children. And while many lifestyle choices may contribute to a greater vulnerability to exposure and infection with the HIV virus, many of those infected daily around the world live very “normal” kinds of lives.

Ms. Sena made an excellent point when she stated that she believes that her brother was infected while still in high school. Adolescence is a period of experimentation. It is also a period of feeling invulnerable. It is a denial of reality to assume that if you teach teen-agers that abstinence is the best way to prevent infection of sexually transmitted disease that they will always remain abstinent. The rate of infection with the virus that causes genital herpes is about one in four U.S. adults. This rate compares to one in 13 for Canadians and one in 18 for Scandinavians. The reason? Americans continued refusal to be responsible for their sexual behaviors in the form of not using condoms.

A second point relates to living with HIV/AIDS. Advances in medical interventions, as well as the evolutionary process of the virus, have allowed persons with HIV/AIDS to live longer, healthier and productive lives. However, as Mr. Basinger pointed out, HIV/AIDS is not a chronic illness such as diabetes. It is a terminal illness. That has not changed. The public needs to understand that.

– Sincerely,
Oliver von Birkenwaldau, LCSW
The Park Slope Institute/ Park Slope Counseling Servicel




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