Getting to Zero

Today people across the globe come together to commemorate those who lost their lives to AIDS, and to celebrate the progress that have been made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

This year’s theme is Getting to Zero. It reflects the effort for zero infection, zero AIDS-related death, and zero discrimination to those living with HIV.

How can we actually move toward zero discrimination against people living with HIV? I believe the most effective way to do that is by an early education and awareness about how the pandemic is affecting us socially, and not just as an individual.

One of my favorite essays that I wrote during my studies at ISS discussed this topic. I took the case of the lesson plans published by the New York City Education Department for  grade K-12 students. The essay analyzed how the lesson plans are heavily geared toward the discussion of the scientific knowledge of AIDS. It has lengthy discussions about the virus, the biological explanation of the progress of the disease, the medical advancement that reduce the HIV transmission from mother to babies, and the individual responsibilities to prevent the spread of the disease.

These are all important knowledge, of course. But unfortunately, by placing too much emphasis on the scientific aspects of the disease we missed the opportunity to foster the student’s empathy to those affected by HIV. Also, conceptualizing AIDS as individual responsibility alone is actually furthering the stigma; that only certain “at-risk” group like homosexuals, drug users, or prostitutes are affected by the disease as a result of their irresponsible behavior.

At some schools in Thailand, students are taught about AIDS from real stories written by kids at their age who are living with HIV. The stories taught them about how the disease is affecting the community, such as how the HIV hardest-hit areas have schools with no teachers because they’re all infected. This example shows how non-infected students are also feeling the burden of HIV. It also invites the students to relate to the lives of those living with AIDS. I think this is an important method of teaching the students about AIDS, a method that nurtures empathy – something that is highly significant in eliminating the stigma against AIDS.

AIDS is affecting all of us, and we all have a common responsibility in fighting the pandemic. Getting to zero discrimination also means getting to know how AIDS is being taught at schools, reevaluating it, and finding ways to teach more about the social aspects of the disease.

Image credit: UNAIDS

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