Listen up, gay Georgia. A statewide survey shows that our attitudes and perceptions – or misperceptions – about HIV are skewed to dangerous levels that make us fifth in the country for HIV diagnoses.
While stigma against people with HIV in general is on the decline in Georgia, most of the respondents in a new Kaiser Family Foundation study still don’t understand how it’s transmitted.
A third of respondents in the state think you can contract HIV from kissing a poz person. Nearly that many believe, or don’t know if, you can get it from a toilet seat or drinking glass.
Misunderstanding HIV leads to bias among Georgia residents that includes refusing to live in the same residence with a person who is HIV-positive, according to the study.
The self-acknowledged discomfort expressed by some Georgians toward people with HIV in different settings and relationships reflects an underlying stigma as well as misperceptions. While most Georgians say they are “comfortable” working alongside (75% say “very” or “somewhat” comfortable) or being friends with (78%) someone with HIV today, there is more unease expressed about being roommates (44% say “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable) or having intimate relations (90% uncomfortable) with a person with HIV.
If you live in Georgia, the likelihood that you have a handle on any HIV issue is low. Most don’t’ even want to talk about it.
The study also shows a sharp divide in the state by race. Black respondents were more likely to be concerned about it, more likely to know someone with it, and more likely to at least in theory support an HIV person. The person most likely to know about HIV treatment and prevention in Georgia is black and female. White women and black men are next, and some 72 percent of white men are most likely to misunderstand their options and risks when it comes to HIV.
The lack of understanding in every demographic extends to how much drugs like PrEP can help prevent the spread of HIV.
While most Georgians are aware that early HIV treatment is important to improving health and extending life for people with HIV, less well known are its prevention benefits. Majorities of Georgians acknowledge they “don’t know enough to say” whether HIV treatment reduces risk of transmission (it does), or about newer options to help prevent the spread of HIV, specifically pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a once daily pill to protect those who do not have HIV. Just about one in ten (12%) know about the role of HIV treatment in prevention HIV – to as much as 96% among those who consistently take their medication – and even fewer (6%) know about PrEP.
The good news is that the full report indicates nearly half of Georgia says they want to know more about HIV – from how to prevent it, how to treat it, how to test for it, how to talk about it, and how to support someone who is diagnosed with it. That’s good, because while people are living longer with treatment. HIV among gay men is up not down, and most of the diagnoses that make Georgia fifth in new HIV diagnoses stem from the heart of metro Atlanta. Not to mention those other STDs you're risking, even with advances in PrEP.