fbpx HIV/AIDS Education Is (Still) a Work In Progress

HIV/AIDS Education Is (Still) a Work In Progress

After battling the epidemic for 40-plus years, it's time to shine a light on the future.
Aleck Woogmaster
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Aleck Woogmaster

On annual World AIDS Day, December 1, you may be trying to update your knowledge of HIV and AIDS, an epidemic that has impacted the world relentlessly over the past four decades. And if you're not, you could be forgiven for thinking that the issues have since been minimized—like we said, it has been four decades. In part, you'd be right, but it's a little more complicated than that.

Progress made in the treatment of these conditions has been nothing short of astounding, and people living with HIV can now live long, healthy lives without fear of transmitting the disease. However, many complexities and challenges persist in preventing, diagnosing, treating and living with any sexually transmitted infection (STI). And HIV and AIDS hold a unique space in that area for a number of reasons.

Here's a brief primer to some organizations and services available if you're interested in finding out more about HIV and AIDS.

Common obstacles to learning about HIV and AIDS

It's no secret sexual education in the U.S. is generally woeful, so it's no surprise that inaccuracies around STIs often persist in public knowledge.

While it's hard to pin the burden of responsibility solely on schools when there are so many information resources quite literally at our fingertips, it's important to remember the internet is rife with fake news, misinformation and disinformation. There are, however, a number of legitimate and reliable education sources available for people willing to look. But even these have obstacles—namely, paywalls and potential literacy obstacles.

The counter to these hurdles has been plentiful. In an age where podcasts and the like sit atop the kingdom of media format, health authorities are becoming enthusiastic in making health education palatable, accessible, digestible, inclusive and even fun.

Animated education for all

From "Schoolhouse Rock" to "The Magic School Bus," Americans have a long history of learning through cartoons.

In Louisiana, two doctors use animation to spread helpful information about hepatitis C, PrEP and nPEP. They even push back against fundamental vaccine misinformation using incredible puns and two-tone ska.

NoiseFilter is a platform for discussing complex health issues via simplistic language and engaging content. Doctors Markalain Dery, D.O., MPH, FCOI and Eric Griggs, M.D. work with a team of writers, producers and engineers to help destigmatize ailments, including HIV and other sexually transmitted conditions. The duo distills the facts down to their most essential elements and both entertains and educates viewers on endemic and highly relevant public health matters.

Dery expressed how embracing different mediums can help acknowledge and address problems across a variety of spectrums.

"We like using these videos and animations because we can take complicated topics and simplify them through the magic of animation," Dery said. "And, with the three HIV videos, by creating these clever little plots and interesting characters, focusing on Milan Nicole Sherry, who is a person of trans experience who has HIV, and having her tell the story—we really wanted to elevate the voices of people like Milan Nicole Sherry because, especially in the South, you've got these assholes busy passing laws for problems that don't exist."

The whimsy and slapstick nature of the animations doesn't drown out the importance of the information. The humor is usually brief and often tongue-in-cheek before returning to a steady pace of information delivery, which maintains an upbeat vibe but doesn't short on sincerity. Because most of the content is embedded in the larger narrative surrounding NoiseFilter and the work being led by Dery and Griggs, the cartoons don't take themselves too seriously and succeed in addressing serious topics with important information based on relevant and accurate data.

Beyond the basic function, though, the big-picture goal of the project seems equally invested in the elevation of underserved and underrepresented communities through media and knowledge services. Those principles are evident without being overbearing, and the short videos manage to drive crucial messages home without any agenda-driven tunnel vision.

"We wanted to elevate voices like those belonging to Milan Nicole Sherry because those voices are typically muted in our society, and, you know, we think we did a really good job with it," Dery explained.

Revised standards and classics

Christine Brennan, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor at Louisiana State University's School of Public Health, speaks from a personal standpoint and referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the best information sources. The CDC now provides relatively up-to-date and interactive teaching resources, which can be understood by people from all walks of life.

"They have these pre-contextual infographics where you can, you know, actually put in your state or put in another region and it will populate that into an infographic where it gives you the numbers and the cases and specifics about that particular area," Brennan said. "And it's already kind of pre-done for you through their system. So, it's gotten a little savvy, not as much as others, but I think that's one of your first and best places [for HIV and AIDS information]."

The CDC's interactive online and downloadable tools are all great, and there are other, similarly designed platforms you can use to both mirror the experience and cross-check the information you come across.

A good example is the National HIV Curriculum website, an AIDS Education and Training Center Program led by the University of Washington. You'll find a vast wealth of relatively manageable information and data pertaining to HIV and AIDS. There's even a "site overview" to help give learners a bit of instruction on how to make use of everything available.

Something for everyone

Accredited and scientific sources are wonderful to have at your fingertips, but everybody pursuing education about HIV and AIDS is bound to do so with different motivations and guiding principles in mind. The resources mentioned above are great in terms of pragmatism and accessibility, but there are other tried-and-true organizations and platforms to be aware of.

In Louisiana, Mississippi and, really, the entire Southern region of the United States, HIV and AIDS have a unique and disproportionate impact on various communities. The Southern AIDS Coalition does tremendous work when it comes to educating about and elevating the causes of prevention, treatment and care related to HIV and STI diagnoses, and are a great resource for everyone.

When the HIV epidemic comes closer to home, either through your own diagnosis or through the diagnosis of a friend, loved one or family member, you may want to be aware of these Resources for HIV Navigators as provided by the National Institutes of Health. The site also has some very useful information pertaining to the treatment of HIV and the realities of COVID-19.

For people who take comfort in government affiliations when it concerns national health matters and associated education, HIV.gov is another reliable portal of information. This year, they've put together special condensed notes on where we stand when it comes to ending the epidemic with HIV/AIDS Awareness Month taking place in December.

These are some basic and not-so-basic starting points to work with if you're looking to self-educate about HIV, AIDS and sexual health, in general. When it comes to these conditions, remember it's important to pull others into the conversation (respectfully and mindfully) and to shine a light on the very real issues that still persist for both the newly diagnosed and people already living with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. and abroad.