Daily Sun story stuck in the past

  • Melody Hu - 23 April 2013

An HIV-positive diagnosis is a far cry from the death sentence it used to be – and the media does the public a disservice when it continues to propagate old fears and stigmas.

“AGED 16 AND NOTHING TO LIVE FOR!” is the bold headline of a recent (18 April 2012) cover story in the Daily Sun highlighting the plight of a girl named Thuli who has tried to kill herself seven times in the two years after she was raped and infected with HIV. “I was raped and given HIV, so I am going to die,” she told the tabloid. “It will be better for me to die before I get sick.”

While Thuli’s situation is saddening, the sensationalist tone taken by the Daily Sun – for example, referring to HIV as “the dreaded virus” –  paints an alarmist picture of HIV that is inaccurate, especially considering the availability of government-sponsored HIV treatment. If taken properly HIV treatment can help to ensure that people live full healthy lives.

By focusing almost exclusively on Thuli’s despair and making no mention of treatment and living with HIV, the story reinforces the misleading idea that HIV infection does indeed merit a devastating and fatalistic attitude.

On the contrary, today there is much more hope for people living with HIV  and the article misses a valuable opportunity to inform the public of these crucially important advances in HIV prevention, treatment and care. In particular, there is no mention of the widespread availability of antiretroviral drugs, or of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) interventions, which, if initiated within 72 hours following potential HIV exposure (for example, incidents of rape), can significantly decrease the chance of HIVinfection.

To its credit, the article does mention a role for HIV counselors and specialists in helping change attitudes towards HIV, underscoring a need for better support for adolescents living with HIV to ensure their mental, physical, and social well-being.

--Melody Hu is an intern at the Anova Health Institute.

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“the story reinforces the misleading idea that HIV infection does indeed merit a devastating and fatalistic attitude”