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Separating HIV Facts From Fiction

Separating HIV Facts From Fiction

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law a measure that calls for the formation of an advisory panel to help the Illinois Department of Public Health target youths, particularly black males, with HIV/AIDS prevention messages. That measure was in part a response to research by University of Chicago Assistant Professor Dexter Voisin.

In one study, Voisin interviewed black males ages 14-18 attending public schools on Chicago's South Side. The results showed that teens who practiced unsafe sex did not do so because they lived in high-risk communities but rather because they believed HIV data were manufactured to make them look bad.

The black teens also believed HIV infection rates among white youths were artificially low because they were able to access private doctors. The black youths said white teens were more promiscuous, but that message is downplayed.

"In the end, the youth who subscribed to conspiracy theories engaged in unprotected sex," said Voisin. "But those who believed what they were being told about HIV/AIDS and infection used a condom when having sex, or had little or no sexual activity."

Such theories are more common among black college students than among whites, Voisin found. Some students said that if there were a cure for AIDS, it would be withheld from blacks. Others did not believe Magic Johnson has HIV/AIDS because he looks so healthy.

While white students had better access to provider- and school-based HIV/AIDS prevention education, black students reported the bulk of their education on the issue came from friends and the media. The black students overlooked public service messages on channels like BET because the warnings were overshadowed by the explicit content of regular programming.

In addition, the students did not consider celebrities to be credible spokespersons for prevention messages because they are seen as merely paid pitchmen. The students preferred to hear from everyday people living with HIV/AIDS.

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