Last Tuesday night I was half watching an earnest Peter Kent read the news, on Global of course, and suddenly I paid attention to what he was saying. Peter was reporting that AIDS cases are on the increase in Canada, according to Stats Canada. My job at the Feds deals with issues like AIDS/HIV, and so I was listening in order to learn something.
What I got was a lesson in irony. Peter Kent read the script reporting the increase in AIDS cases, and then we watched a gay man (we were told he was gay) talk about being HIV positive. I watched incredulously as shots of Toronto's Gay Pride Parade flashed on the screen, complete with images of men in dresses and feather boas, images often associated in the public mind with promiscuity and then, of course, the spread of AIDS/HIV.
In all there were 6 or 7 images of gay males coupled with this story, and one quick shot of a woman using intravenously injected drugs. The last shot was interesting since I had earlier heard a story on CBC radio reporting that the incidence of HIV infections in women is on the increase, and in fact that finding made the front page of the Toronto Star the following day. Intravenous drug use is also responsible for many infections, but publicized far less because ordinary everyday people just don't do that kind of thing.
Peter Kent came back on the screen, bastion of truth he is, and reported that Stats Can took its figures from a particular AIDS service organization (the name of which escapes me), the director of which claimed that AIDS/HIV infections have levelled off. I had heard this before, and frankly trusted the man who worked with People Living With AIDS more than I did a thirty second spot on Global news. However, in the same breath Peter reported that AIDS service organizations (ASOs) are competing for funding, since it is widely believed that the National AIDS Strategy will cease in 1998 (Chretien has not yet said anything to disprove this). The implication here is that ASOs need to prove that they are being effective in order to maintain their level of funding.
The equation is simple, in the minds of those who consider economics of primary importance: one person, infected with HIV and eventually developing AIDS, costs the health care and social services system, on average, about $100 000 per year for the duration of his or her lifetime. If infections are levelling off, the cost to the health care and social services system will decrease, and ASOs will continue to receive funding to work towards prevention.
It got worse. One story later, Peter detailed the presentation of a study on hate crimes and discrimination. The study found that discrimination against gays and lesbians was the worst among all minority groups, and that gay men were in the most danger of physical harm. One of the authors said that only 10% of hate crimes and discrimination were reported, and that those reports were largely met with silence by management and police.
The final equation?
AIDS is on the increase; gays are spreading the infection; infection costs a lot of money; money is scarce; if we beat gays so that they are scared and go away, they won't report it; even if they do report it nothing will happen.
That's what I learned in the space of five minutes of television. For some reason, I still don't get it.--Heather Calder
Send comments to: kovu at lionking point org