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Many Americans Worry About How People With HIV/AIDS Fare in the U.S. Health System

Research shows that support for increased funding coexists with fears and stigma

NEW YORK, May 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Many Americans voice concern about how those infected with HIV fare in the U.S. health care system, according to "Impressions of HIV/AIDS in America" a new focus group study released today by Public Agenda, the nonpartisan opinion research and citizen engagement organization.

The report, prepared for THE NATIONAL AIDS STRATEGY COORDINATING COMMITTEE, with support from the M·A·C AIDS FUND, is based on five focus groups with a cross section of Americans in urban, suburban and rural settings along with individual in-depth interviews with 13 HIV/AIDS experts. In every focus group many participants, often using their own health care experiences as a guide, expressed deep concern that many who are affected are not getting the help they need. As one woman in the Los Angeles focus group said, "[While] someone like Magic Johnson could afford to have those [drug] cocktails. People that are in the lower brackets of income, they probably wouldn't be able to afford those treatments."

"This study highlights the empathy people have for those living with HIV/AIDS and an understanding that access to medical care and drug treatment is critical. Unfortunately the reality in this country is that about one half of those living with HIV/AIDS are not in care and treatment," said Rebecca Haag, CEO and President of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. "People sympathize with those living with HIV/AIDS because of their own frustrations with a dysfunctional health care system. This is the reason that it's critical that the needs of those living with HIV/AIDS and other life threatening diseases be addressed in the Health Care Reform work that is being driving by our new President and Congress. Everyone in our country should have equal access to life saving drugs and medical care."

In addition, people generally voiced support for increasing funding to combat HIV/AIDS, particularly towards prevention efforts, funneling more to research in creating a vaccine and for broad-based education campaigns.

Education was seen as very important, in part because knowledge levels of the focus group's participants were low, and participants often acknowledged this themselves. Though the African-Americans and many young people spoken to were aware that HIV/AIDS was still an issue in the United States, the consensus of most participants matched the words of a woman in Los Angeles, California, who said, "To be quite honest with you, I haven't ... talked about it with anyone in years. It's a nonsubject."

Public attitudes are affected by a sense that HIV is different from other diseases, and by concerns about how it is spread. "Impressions of HIV/AIDS in America" found that though there is empathy towards those infected with HIV, there is still a stigma to affected individuals, with many in the focus groups identifying people who have HIV as those who have "risky lifestyles." For example, when told that certain parts of the country, such as urban settings, have a higher incidence of HIV/AIDS, some people responded saying things such as "...the big cities have larger numbers of people with certain lifestyles that you don't see here [in Des Moines, Iowa]."

And in every focus group, at least some participants overstated the risks of transmitting HIV through casual contact, with some saying that they would be uncomfortable if they or their loved ones were around people who are HIV-positive. As a man from Westchester County said, "If I am working with you and you have AIDS, and I have a family of four kids ... you should at least let your employer know, and then I know ... I'll be careful around you..."

Jonathan Rochkind, the lead researcher on the project, said, "Many people we spoke with had inconsistent views of HIV/AIDS. Even though most people were aware of the primary ways HIV is transmitted, when presented with the idea of being in casual contact with people who are HIV-positive, they often said that it was a possibility HIV could be transmitted that way and that they were concerned about the risk."

The report, executive summary and full methodology is available at:

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization dedicated to nonpartisan public policy research and civic engagement. Founded in 1975 by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, Public Agenda is known for its influential public opinion surveys and balanced citizen education materials. Its mission is to inject the public's voice into crucial policy debates. Public Agenda seeks to inform leaders about the public's views and to engage citizens in discussing complex policy issues. It is also known for its destination web site,, which has been twice nominated (in 2005 and 2007) for a Webby Award for best political site.

SOURCE Public Agenda
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