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November 01, 2009

Survey Finds Lack of Awareness About AIDS

A new survey of people in the seven Western industrialized nations shows a high percentage know little or nothing about HIV/AIDS.  From VOA's New York Bureau, Barbara Schoetzau has the details.

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on AIDS awareness campaigns around the world since the discovery of the HIV virus more than 25 years ago. Yet a new survey, sponsored by the Christian humanitarian group World Vision, shows that one-third of the people in the wealthiest, most industrialized societies know little about the global HIV/ AIDS epidemic. And one-quarter of the citizens of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States think the problem is "greatly exaggerated."

Richard Stearns, the head of World Vision, says statistics and scientific data about AIDS often overshadow the human side of the pandemic.

"So we might ask why, why after billions of words and images have been written and broadcast, why after billions have been spent on research to develop vaccines and treatments for HIV, why after 15 million children have lost a parent to AIDS, why is it that so many people admit to knowing little or nothing about the problem?" he asked.  "I submit to you that the answer is quite simple: for those millions of people the disease HIV is simply not real. It is not personal. It is somebody else's problem and somebody' else's disease, very often in a place very far away and remote from their everyday lives."

Surprisingly, 80 percent of the respondents said their governments should do more to help AIDS orphans and 44 percent said they were willing to pay higher taxes to fund prevention, research and treatment programs.

"We found an amazing statistic that nine out of 10 people surveyed believe that the global community has a moral responsibility to respond to the AIDS crisis," he added.  "The vast majority of people think their governments and individuals should be responding decisively to turn the tide and come to the aid of people living with HIV and AIDS. In fact, 64 percent of those people said they would give to a charitable cause that helps children affected by AIDS. And about 71 percent said they strongly agreed they should play their part, however small, to help those affected by HIV and AIDS."

World Vision, which focuses on children's issues, has AIDS programs in 60 nations. The group estimates that the HIV virus infects 33 million people and that 6,000 children lose a parent to AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses every day.

More than 3,000 people participated in the survey. Sponsors say they plan to repeat the survey in the future to track changing attitudes.