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Report: Less Than Half of Americans Understand HIV

understand HIV
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Only 42 percent of respondents in the survey knew HIV wasn't transmissible when properly treated. 

A new report found that less than half of American adults feel knowledgeable about HIV. 

In its second annual State of HIV Stigma Study released on Thursday, LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD found that the stories and voices of people living with HIV are often not prioritized enough to decrease the stigma around the HIV epidemic.

The study measured American adults' attitudes toward HIV and those living with HIV. It was funded by Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative, which looks to address the HIV epidemic in the South.

GLAAD's survey found that 48 percent of adults reported feeling knowledgeable about HIV. However, the organization noted that number is three points lower than last year.

“For the second year in a row, we are finding that HIV stigma remains high while HIV knowledge remains low amongst Americans. We have to think critically and intentionally about how we truly equip and engage everyday Americans with the facts, resources, and scientific advancements about HIV if we want to end the epidemic,” said GLAAD associate director for communities of color, DaShawn Usher.

Stigma and misinformation about HIV is still widespread throughout American society. Only 42 percent of people knew that people living with HIV cannot transmit the virus while on a proper treatment regimen.

When treated properly, people living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, and treatment for HIV can suppress the virus to where it’s undetectable, which means it is also untransmittable. This concept is known as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.

A vast majority of people did agree that there is stigma around HIV. That stigma was shown in the study through questions on interacting with people with HIV. For example, 53 percent of non-LGBTQ+ people said they would be uncomfortable if a medical professional had HIV. The number dropped to 43 percent when asked about interacting with a hairstylist with HIV.

GLAAD found that the highest level of discomfort around those living with HIV was found in the South. The lowest levels of discomfort were found in the West.

The Southern AIDS Coalition, the Center for Health Policy, and Inequalities Research at Duke University, and the Duke Global Health Institute recently released a report, titled "HIV in the U.S. Deep South: Trends from 2008-2019." It found that while the Deep South’s nine states possess 29 percent of the country’s population in 2019, it accounted for almost 44 percent of new HIV diagnoses.

The study also found that 56 percent of non-LGBTQ+ respondents to the survey noted seeing more stories about those living with HIV in media.

"We must hold the media accountable to the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV who are not seen, represented, or discussed. Their stories matter and are beyond worthy of being told,” Usher said.

Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, who is living with HIV, told GLAAD, “We continue to do our work of educating folks on living with, the treatment of, and prevention of HIV/AIDS, but a culture stigma and ignorance still exists for so many people. A lack of compassion and stigma will continue to allow HIV/AIDS to hurt people in all communities until everyone in every community prioritizes ending the judgment and cruelty that is preventing healing for everyone affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

“Only half of Americans are knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, which shows that, while we’ve made progress, there is still much more to do in educating the public and removing the stigma around HIV/AIDS,” said Brett Pletcher, executive vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel at Gilead. “That’s why we are proud to team up with organizations like GLAAD. This new information will help us better target our COMPASS Initiative to end HIV in the South. We cannot end the epidemic until we stop the stigma, and GLAAD is on the frontline of that effort.”  

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