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on the rural face of AIDS
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.
Oliver von Birkenwaldau, LCSW
The Park Slope Institute/ Park Slope Counseling Servicel