Reflecting on Progress in HIV/AIDS Awareness
Dr. Richard Jiménez, a faculty member in Walden University’s College of Health Sciences, has been involved in HIV/AIDS prevention since 1985 at the community, state, national, and international levels. From 1989–1992, while working with the National AIDS Information and Education Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Dr. Jiménez was part of a team charged with forging strategic partnerships with a variety of organizations to address HIV prevention.
Today, he is making an impact both directly and indirectly, as a volunteer for an AIDS services organization in his community and as a mentor to Walden doctoral students who are writing their dissertations on various aspects of HIV/AIDS.
In a recent interview with Spotlight on Walden, Dr. Jiménez shared his hope that July’s National HIV Awareness Month will encourage everyone to maintain HIV prevention and AIDS awareness efforts throughout the year.
How knowledgeable is the public about HIV/AIDS today?
We’ve come a long way in the United States since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first AIDS cases in 1981, but we need to continue to target prevention messages and information to the general public and, especially, to vulnerable populations such as youth and ethnic and racial minorities. We have to not only make people aware but also provide the information and skills they need to protect themselves against HIV infection.
While advances in treatment have improved the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS, they have also led many people to mistakenly believe that there’s a cure for AIDS. The reality is we don’t yet have a cure for AIDS or a viable and effective vaccine against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Therefore, the best defense against HIV/AIDS is still education and prevention.
What important HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives are currently underway?
The Department of Health and Human Services continues to provide funding to state health departments and community organizations for HIV prevention and AIDS services, while community-based service organizations continue to monitor the latest epidemiological trends and serve the populations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. The private sector, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation AIDS initiative, has also stepped up by funding effective HIV prevention and AIDS services programs in the United States, developing countries in Africa, and other places hit hard by HIV/AIDS. On the research side, millions of dollars are being allocated to finding better treatments and a viable vaccine to block HIV infection.
How have public perceptions of HIV/AIDS changed?
Education and awareness efforts have improved overall acceptance and understanding, but many people living with HIV/AIDS still suffer from the stigma associated with it. The focus on moral and religious aspects of behaviors through which HIV can be transmitted from person to person makes it more difficult to promote and implement effective HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts. We must continue to fight the stigma related to HIV/AIDS both in the United States and abroad.
What should be done nationally and internationally to bring HIV/AIDS to an end?
The public health community and governments, both in the United States and abroad, have learned that responding effectively to a problem as great as HIV/AIDS requires partnerships. No one agency or group can respond adequately. To conquer this epidemic, we will need to continue to partner and collaborate with the public and private sectors in every community.