I’m Bob Doughty with Phoebe Zimmermann, and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- a report about the problems of social acceptance for people with the AIDS virus. And, new concerns about H-I-V infection rates in the United States.
How would you react if you learned that someone in your family or your workplace has H-I-V? Human immunodeficiency virus causes the deadly disease AIDS.
People who are infected must worry not only about their health. Often, they must also worry about how others will treat them.
Experts say one reason is because AIDS involves blood, sickness and death. These are some of the most important, yet most difficult, parts of life for people to deal with.
Another reason is because AIDS is often caused by actions that are unacceptable to many people. These include sexual relations before marriage or outside marriage, or between men. They also include the use of illegal drugs and shared needles.
Some might see H-I-V infection as punishment for a person's actions. Or even as a crime itself. People with H-I-V may be unable to get or keep jobs -- or even to continue to live with their families.
Often these bad feelings, this stigma, connected with AIDS is worse for women than for men.
There are medicines that restrain the growth of H-I-V. Many people who are able to get these medicines continue to lead active lives. Yet acceptance may still escape them.
Many international organizations have programs that seek to end the stigma connected with H-I-V and AIDS. These organizations say it is important that infected people continue to live and work in their communities. For one thing, there are economic reasons, since so many of them are of working age.
These groups say government and business leaders must talk openly about AIDS. They say it is important to have messages on radio and television and elsewhere that talk about how the infection spreads. Such messages might tell people they cannot get H-I-V from toilet seats or if they shake hands.
But experts say it is also important to warn people that they can get infected from unprotected sex even with just one person -- if that one person has H-I-V.
Employers in several countries are trying to help workers with H-I-V.
The United States Agency for International Development paid for a study of programs for workers in the building trades in Vietnam. Construction workers are often young men who travel far from home to find work. They are among those especially likely to become infected with H-I-V.
One program in Vietnam brought visiting health educators to talk with the construction workers. A second program trained some of the workers as “peer educators." They learned how to teach other workers about the dangers of AIDS.
The study found more success in the peer education program than in the program with the visiting health educators. It also cost the companies less to train their own employees.
Officials say the first goal of the program is to prevent workers from getting H-I-V and AIDS. The second goal is to change the ideas of employees toward people with AIDS.
How employees feel about AIDS can affect how much work their company can do. In the words of one company director in Vietnam: "When there is one case of H-I-V in the company, people may not want to work with that person or ask to work in a different place.”
So leaders of the building industry joined with the Ho Chi Minh City AIDS Committee and the Ho Chi Minh City Labor Union. They worked together to bring peer education to many construction places.
The trained peer educators were often older and better educated than the other workers. They were already giving advice to the younger men. The organizers say all they needed was training to provide information about H-I-V.
The peer educators taught other men how to say “no” if a friend suggested a visit to a sex worker. They passed out condoms. They urged their co-workers to reduce their number of sexual partners. And they urged them to get treated for any kind of infection they developed.
The peer educators in Vietnam did not just talk. They also used songs and plays to communicate information about H-I-V.
In South Africa, the Eskom company has won awards for its H-I-V programs in the workplace. Eskom is one of the largest electric power companies in the world. A study of its employees showed that ninety percent worried that if they had H-I-V or AIDS, other people would say bad things about them.
Eskom had health care workers in its workplaces. But many employees did not want to be seen with them. They worried that other people would think they were infected. So Eskom tried something else.
A support group for employees with H-I-V and AIDS was formed. This group is called “asikhulume,” which means “let’s talk.” The people come from two Eskom workplaces. They help each other. But, with training, they also work to educate other employees.
Mazwi Mngadi says he decided to talk about his infection so he could help others. He leads educational programs. He passes out condoms, and makes sure containers of them are in the workplaces. He talks to individual workers and their families. He passes out a small book about his own story.
Mazwi Mngadi says he wants to make an example of himself. He says he wants other workers to see, in his words, "that you can still live your life even if you are H-I-V positive.”
In the United States, health officials say they are concerned about a small increase last year in the number of people infected with H-I-V. This is the first increase in ten years. Since nineteen-ninety-three the numbers had gone down.
Doctors found forty-two-thousand new cases of H-I-V in the United States last year. This was an increase of two percent from the year before. But officials say the infection rate increased more than seven percent among men who have sexual relations with other men.
An H-I-V infection generally takes several years to become AIDS. But drugs that limit the spread of the virus have continued to reduce the number of deaths in the United States. About sixteen-thousand Americans with AIDS died last year. That was down six percent from two-thousand-one.
Experts are not sure how to explain the increase in new infections. They say they fear that the people most likely to get H-I-V do not take the threat seriously. Some people may believe that medicines will solve any problems. Yet there is still no cure for AIDS, and no drugs to prevent it.
Officials say the increase might also suggest a problem with treatment efforts. Some people cannot use new drugs developed for H-I-V because of side effects. And sometimes the virus becomes resistant to the drugs.
The researchers say more work is needed to educate people about the threat of H-I-V and the danger of unprotected sexual relations.
One of the aims of a new prevention campaign in the United States is also to increase H-I-V testing of pregnant women. The virus can spread from mother to child. Officials say many women still do not know about the treatment possibilities that exist to prevent that. Scientists also continue to work on new forms of protection, like the idea of a medicine for women to kill any H-I-V passed by a sexual partner.
And, finally, this news -- organizers of the World AIDS Campaign have decided to center next year's events on "women and H-I-V/AIDS." Officials of the UNAIDS program say the last World AIDS Day organized around women took place in nineteen-ninety.
Science in the News was written by Karen Leggett and Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.