Each week, one of the CSPH interns reviews a sexuality or gender related issue that appears in the media and reflects upon how it challenged them in ways they didn’t expect. This section is devoted to showing the growth process in becoming a sexuality professional. This week, we’re reflecting on an article claiming that AIDS foundations are distorting or exaggerating the risk of HIV in order to gain or retain funding.
Last night I received a text from a dear friend of mine who is receiving his Masters in Public Health and working at a local AIDS foundation. His text read, “Some douche in China thinks that all AIDS foundations are lying about risk of the HIV epidemic to stay funded and that there will never be a burden in ‘general society.’” After reviewing the article myself, it took me a few reads to grasp a true understanding of the intentions of the author, James Chin, a former Chief of Global HIV Surveillance for the World Health Organization.
For countries with low HIV prevalence, Chin argues that their scarce health resources should be targeted primarily at those who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV, rather than the wider public.
Thinking back to a Human Sexuality class that I took last semester, I recalled similar arguments in the film The House of Numbers, which resulted in an uproar of disagreement from the class. To raise doubts about whether HIV causes AIDS, The House of Numbers minces the words of leading AIDS scientists, questions the validity of HIV testing and the benefits of HIV treatments, and creates a misconception of debate among scientists by placing scientists alongside pseudoscientists. I realized that it was James Chin himself who the director, Brent Leung, conducted an extended interview with in the film.
In The House of Numbers, Dr. Joe Sonnabend, co-founder of amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), explains how the organization committed fraud by hyping the risk of AIDS in order to get more money from Washington. Dr. Sonnabend said that “One day one of the networks had received a press release from us, and the press release said that heterosexual AIDS is about to happen, that straight men are going to drop in droves. It was a fundraising ploy, but it was so efficient that it resulted in a LIFE Magazine cover which said ‘No one is safe from AIDS.’” Brent Leung then asks Dr. Sonnabend, “Isn’t that ethically wrong to scare an entire population?” My personal response to him is no; this is raising AWARENESS.
I find the true issue here to be the lack of acknowledgment of the social determinants of health. UNAids believes as well as I that poverty and discrimination are major determinants of high HIV prevalence; a topic that I have been studying this entire semester in my Health Disparities and Minority Health Class. However, James Chin disagrees, claiming that poverty and discrimination present barriers to gaining access to prevention and treatment, but are not primary determinants of sexual behaviour—the real determinant of sexual HIV transmission. He says that the US response to global AIDS is based on the poverty principle, guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights: the rights of the poor, continuing with his claim that this mistake has led to all kinds of misspending down the line. This is his claim of “fraud.”
Well, Mr. Chin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of new AIDS cases among whites has decreased, but the percentages among African Americans and Hispanics have increased. So what is the common denominator amongst these two populations? Inequities of poverty and discrimination. There is a disproportionate impact of the epidemic upon those who are already marginalized; the racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and the poor. It is health disparities that lead to risky sexual behaviors.
“Low-income African-American and Latino children are at risk of being left behind and overlooked for jobs because they have not received the education and training like other ethnic groups. But, thanks to organizations that have a strong sense of responsibility my Foundation can come into the community and provide the necessary training and education that kids may not be getting otherwise.” -Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Through raising awareness by teaching risk factors associated with HIV and the significance of testing, the Magic Johnson Foundation has educated around 280,000 individuals on HIV. AIDS foundations are helping, not hindering, us.