In what should serve as a wake-up call ahead of World AIDS Day, a new United Nations-backed survey shows that about one third of the people in seven wealthy nations admit they know little or nothing about the global HIV and AIDS crisis, and 25 per cent believe problems associated with the epidemic are “greatly exaggerated” by the media.
The Global AIDS Attitudes Survey, published by the non-governmental organization World Vision, reveals the awareness and attitudes of populations in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – all members of the “Group of Eight” industrialized nations – towards those affected by HIV and AIDS globally.
Speaking at the launch of the Survey at UN Headquarters, the Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in New York underlined that “the more we understand the epidemic, the better we can make policies, the better we can make programmes.
“The contribution from World Vision and [global polling firm] Ipsos provides the kind of insight that helps us to understand this epidemic in a way that makes the efforts that are required to be more effective,” Bunmi Makinwa added.
Among the main findings of the Survey is that the more people know about HIV and AIDS globally, the more concerned they are about the issue and the more compassionate they are towards those directly affected by it.
The World Vision “Index of Concern,” a tool for understanding the level of concern each country feels towards the issue, finds that Canada leads the seven nations surveyed for the highest level of empathy its residents feel toward those affected by HIV and AIDS globally, with Japan ranking last. The others in order are France, Germany, US, Italy and UK.
In addition, concern about HIV and AIDS globally is “on par” with the war in Iraq. At the same time, poverty and hunger, climate change, and terrorism are of greater concern to people than HIV and AIDS or the Iraq war.
“After more than 25 years – more than a quarter of a century – of news coverage, education and prevention work, about one third of the people that we surveyed in the seven countries from this report admit that they know little or nothing about AIDS – one in three in the wealthiest nations in the world,” said Richard Stearns, President of World Vision US.
“In the United States that represents about 70 million adults that say they know little or nothing about HIV and AIDS or its impact,” he added.
Noting that the Survey does contain “some element of hope,” he pointed out that 80 per cent of people believed their governments should do much more to help children who are orphaned by AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses.
In addition, 44 per cent are willing to pay more in taxes to help fund prevention, treatment, research and care; that number was 50 per cent in the US.
Another “astounding” statistic is that 9 out of 10 people surveyed believed that the global community has a moral obligation to respond to the AIDS crisis, he said. “The vast majority of people think their governments and individuals globally should be responding decisively to turn the tide and come to the aid of people living with HIV and AIDS.”
As to why so many people admit to knowing little or nothing about the problem, he said the answer is simple. “For those millions of people the disease HIV is simply not real. It’s not personal. It is somebody else’s problem and somebody else’s disease, and very often in a place very, very far away and remote from their everyday lives.”
In response, the challenge is to make HIV/AIDS more real to the public, “to put a face on the disease” that kills 2.1 million people every year.
“AIDS will only become real, it will only become important when we see past the statistics,” he stated.