What I Thought... And Why I THOUGHT It
I feel as though I had no initial impression of the AIDS epidemic. The science courses I took in my high school briefly described how the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is deadly, and that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes it. I was struck to realize that I had been ignorant to AIDS all my life, not knowing its severity within my community. Lawrence, Massachusetts is one of the poorest communities cities in the Essex County, as well as the country (1). I assumed that Lawrence must have a higher range of HIV/AIDS cases than most of the other cities because of what I have seen on the news. Despite the fact that I had not seen a news report on television or read about HIV/AIDS in the newspapers (The Boston Globe or The Eagle Tribune), I knew that the illicit drug use, which was what the news reports were usually about, gave a means of which diseases could be transferred from person to person. According to news article search on Lexus/Nexis™ Academic as well as the Boston Globe online, Lawrence has not seen a news article that addresses HIV/AIDS for the past 6 months. If the government had wanted the HIV cases in the Essex County to drop, it would be necessary to educate the public of the deadly syndrome.
Before searching for the facts on HIV/AIDS in Lawrence, I guessed the cumulative number of AIDS cases since 1980 was approximately 250 cases. I guessed this amount because I felt that I did not know much about the health and human services in Lawrence, therefore I could not assume that the causes for the spread of the disease were being monitored or vice versa. Moreover, I did not want to assume overly large numbers since I know that people get testing in the Lawrence Public Health Center all the time. However, there are those that live in the “fast lane” and do not consider their body’s ability to sustain its immune defense. The fact that people are so uneducated health-wise makes Lawrence a city “where teenagers are more than twice as likely to become pregnant and fewer expectant mothers of all ages receive adequate prenatal care, according to a new state health survey” (2).
I knew a friend who had a family member diagnosed with AIDS living in Lawrence. This was a big realization, since my family hadn’t talked about it much, that there was a disease outside of the home that could kill anyone and everyone. My mother is a nursing assistant and has to be very careful with whom she works with and making contact with their blood. Since AIDS is transferable through the blood, each patient, as well as each employee at my mother’s workplace must be checked monthly. Knowing all of this, my estimate was only off by 176 less cumulative AIDS cases since 1980.
There are no billboards or public announcements that invoke testing for HIV. In comparison to the AIDS case rate in the United States of America (339.71), Lawrence has a heavily above average AIDS rate (597.35) compared to the state’s AIDS rate (285.061). Moreover, in respect to Essex County, Lawrence has the highest AIDS rate for Essex County. I have always felt that Lawrence, because of the excessive drug use I was exposed to, was undeveloped both in reaching to its citizens about illicit drug use, as well as, creating a healthy environment for these users. From my personal experience in the health studies, there are very few services that provide care for elderly and people with chronic diseases. There is only one center in Lawrence that publicly helps those who do have HIV/AIDS, The Lazarus House Ministries. These houses provide a home to the homeless as well as to those with HIV or AIDS. Community service volunteers go in and out supporting patients and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Other than the Lazarus House, which is not promoted by any media source through the city, there are no AIDS help centers in the district (4). Aside from Lawrence, Massachusetts undergoes some difficulty finding facilities for terminally ill AIDS patients. Patients must suffer limited community/non-hospital options for attaining medical care for AIDS (5).
As for high school, health class was not the most educational experience. I attended a public high school (Lawrence High School) where two health courses were required. I took health sophomore and senior year, and all health classes would usually consist of preventing sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and maintaining good overall body health. I remember asking about AIDS, and was told that it was a deadly non-curable disease that could be transmitted through sexual contact. My teacher for both health classes was the same middle-aged White woman. She most likely would not have provided a biased view of the epidemic since women have only amounted for 27% of the total AIDS cases in the county (see table 1.4). I highly doubt if I were to ask her about the epidemic she would have any relevant information that could lead me into understanding the situation in Lawrence, or more importantly a place to be tested (unless she was actively involved in Lazarus Ministries). HIV/AIDS education in Massachusetts has significantly decreased with the years (7). The 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey states that the Massachusetts Board of Education recommends HIV/AIDS prevention education, and approximately 93% of high school students receive such education. However, only 47% of the high school students learn how to use a condom. Moreover, schools can teach about HIV/AIDS, but their methods of teaching may not be proving effective. People infected seem to pretend as if nothing is clinically wrong with them, and people whose friends or family are infected appear to be disgraced by them. Family neglecting their infected members as well as other contributing factors that lead to fear of health disclosure need to be understood about people living with AIDS (PWA). There is nothing shameful about contracting the disease, because the mode of exposure should not distinguish a person between being guilty of an act and a victim of the virus. This is the problem with the media and portraying the disease as a “lifestyle” issue, furthermore, a “gay lifestyle” issue (8-11). When Massachusetts accepted gay-marriage, the lifestyles of these people were even more negatively depicted. Any apparent form of homosexual education or influence was shunned upon by the homophobic society (9, 10). The more people acknowledge that the disease is deadly and can be transferred in a large range of manners; the easier it would be for people to accept the fact that they have it.
Prior to my college education, I had never given thought to the first manner people were infected with HIV/AIDS: men who have sex with men (MSM). The rate for MSM is 67% of the total AIDS cases in the USA, and heterosexual contact comes secondary with 15% of the total AIDS cases in the USA. Likewise, in Essex County MSM contributes to 29% of the AIDS cases, and heterosexual contact with nearly 13% of the cases (3). Evidently, IDU is the greatest problem in Essex County, amounting to thirty-six percent of the AIDS cases. Of the 538 deaths in Northeaster Massachusetts area, which includes Essex County, 34% of those deaths were due to poisoning/drug use (12). The drug use problem in the Essex County must be due to the government itself for not promoting awareness of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. People continue to carelessly use the materials for injecting drugs, such as syringes, and suffer years later finding they have contracted a deadly virus. There must be a way to secure locations that hold injection syringes that can transfer HIV from person to person easier. Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Provincetown are the only cities in Massachusetts where syringes can be legally purchased through state-supervised programs. Other than these cities, intravenous drug users cannot legally obtain clean syringes in the state (13). To my knowledge, there have not been advertisements to get tested for HIV on the public buses of Lawrence. The more money saved on the city faults with the more people dying.
Media coverage in Lawrence might as well be the worst aspect of AIDS in the city. In an article search on Lexis/Nexis™ Academic, approximately 6 news articles (predominantly the Boston Globe) were released in Lawrence that slightly dealt with HIV/AIDS (where 2 of these articles dealt with the same event) over the last 2 years. The coverage seemed to imply that the problem was somewhere unrecognizable to the people. However, what is relevant in a city so close to Lawrence must be relevant to the Lawrence community too. The St. Patrick’s Parish, where AIDS patients are welcome leave the people of Lawrence feeling far from the plague. The Church is involved with Corpus Cristi Organization, which gives food to the homeless and provides spiritual ailment to those with HIV/AIDS. The Eagle-Tribune, one of Lawrence’s primary newspaper suggests that Essex County has a relative low AIDS rate in contrast to the other regions of Massachusetts (12). In comparison to other counties, the Essex County has one of the lowest HIV/AIDS rates. The most interesting information I gathered was the race/ethnicity information for the Essex County. Lawrence and other surrounding cities are populated with Hispanics, such as Lynn, Salem, Peabody, Salisbury and Gloucester (14). It was new to see that the percentage of Hispanics with AIDS is only 30.96%, whereas, the frequency of Whites (non-Hispanics) reaches to 59.85% (see Table 2) (3). I assumed that the Black community would have had a higher percentage in the cumulative AIDS cases as well for a number of reasons. A professor in my sophomore year had told me that many diseases came from Africa, and AIDS may have been one of them. More, if AIDS originated in Africa, then disease would logically spread to their people.
Cities such as Lawrence, Danvers, and Rockport have large black populations (14). I can recall television news such as CNN or WNBC that gave two minute stories on how Black men with HIV “allegedly” attacked/sexually harassed someone. I never paid any attention to these stories, being that they all seemed dreadfully repetitive and gave no insight to the medical perspective of it. The way news reporters identified AIDS seemed as if it were just something else, as if AIDS was not killing hundreds of people each day.
One of the few articles on AIDS in the Boston Herald dealt with a former Boston City Councilor, David Scondras (a Hispanic). Scondras, a middle-aged near senior man, had persuaded a 15-year-old named Josh to have “raw sex” with him. Scondras claimed to have a negative HIV test, and when Josh complied, anonymous sex took place in the woods, by the parking lot of a Lawrence Public School parking lot (15). First, possible exposure of HIV/AIDS was not at all expressed within the article and the fact that he could have simply been passing HIV from victim to victim. The article was on the 6th page of the newspaper, which meant deep on the left side, unnoticeable. All of the other articles released in the past year about AIDS do not go in depth whatsoever explaining what HIV or AIDS is, and the fact that Lawrence has the highest rate. Just as in television and the newspapers, HIV/AIDS is “old and uninteresting”, as though the numbers of AIDS cases are not rising substantially throughout the nation.
AIDS is still one of the greatest problems in the world today. The media refuses to portray the syndrome for what it is, an epidemic. The lack of communication the city council has with its people is probably the main cause of the high HIV/AIDS cases in Lawrence. If in the past 6 months none of the major newspapers in the area have posted anything relating to HIV/AIDS, then is therapy what will inform them? Lawrence is then going to continue to have the highest number of AIDS cases in its county. Looking deeper into the situation, what caused the number of AIDS cases to turn out the way they did? Perhaps some communities don’t have the financial requirements to progress and support PWA. I believe it is the political aspects behind AIDS that have it killing America away.