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By Michael Lipin
Washington
29 April 2009

A U.S. health research group says fewer Americans think HIV/AIDS is a major national health problem, and many Americans still view the disease as a stigma. The Obama administration says it plans to tackle those problems through a new public awareness campaign.

A new health survey in the U.S. says Americans have become much less concerned about HIV/AIDS in recent years despite signs the epidemic is worsening.

Last August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 40 percent more new HIV infections in the country each year than previously believed.

But the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that just six percent of Americans consider HIV/AIDS to be the country's top health problem. That is down from 44 percent in 1995.

Drew Altman
Drew Altman
The non-profit group's president, Drew Altman, said in Washington Tuesday the study shows a creeping complacency about HIV/AIDS among the public.

"The sense of urgency about HIV going down, attention to the epidemic going down, so all the arrows moving in the wrong direction - we would like to see those moving in the other direction - and that is a problem, that is a challenge," said Altman.

The group based its report on a nation-wide telephone poll of 2,500 adults from late January to early March this year.

Their survey found that a significant share of respondents have misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

The report also says public attitudes toward people living with HIV/AIDS are still a problem.

Jonathan Rochkind
Jonathan Rochkind
Jonathan Rochkind is a researcher at Public Agenda, a New York-based non-profit that also is studying public awareness about HIV/AIDS. He recently interviewed a group of people in the city under age 30.

"We started talking about food preparation. I asked them how would they feel if they knew their wait staff was HIV positive -[they are] very concerned about that," said Rochkind. "Dentist - very concerned about that. Even though they told me point blank, a mere 15 minutes before that you do not get HIV through casual contact. Risk assessment is still off in these areas here."

Jeff Crowley is the top advisor on HIV/AIDS to the Obama administration, which launched a public awareness campaign this month to improve education about the deadly disease.

He says the government is working with community groups to devise a strategy for combatting discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients.

"One of the ways that we can help to address stigma is to normalize it - make people see that, well, for one, we protect their civil rights so they do not fear violence, discrimination," said Crowley.

The survey's authors say a key positive finding is that Americans support more government spending to deal with the epidemic.
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