It hasn't gone away, you know.

HIV and AIDS have dropped off the media's radar. While infection rates in Ireland are on a downward trend, one way to keep those rates going down is through awareness; something the media can play a role in. By David Johnson.

I am something of an RSS addict. My morning begins with Google Reader and a quick trawl through my feeds, and if I miss a day or, even worse, two then I am greeted by the intimidating message in the top left hand corner that I have thousands of items to read. In addition to feeds from the blogs of friends, authors I like and group blogs, I also subscribe to a large number of old media sites, from the Irish Times and the Examiner to the Guardian and others from further afield. Every sixty seconds my reader fills up again with snippets of news from around the world all demanding (but rarely getting) my full and immediate attention.  

RSS feeds are a mixed bag depending on their source website; some push out an update every time a new article is posted anywhere on that site, others only announce the front page or headline posts. A cursory glance down the list of post titles can give you an instant overview of what the world media consider to be important at any given moment. It's a bit like Twitter Trends but without all the chaff thrown up by thirteen-year olds.  

Today, amidst news of the imminent collapse of the euro, the Budget, Egypt and clerical abuse, my reader contained a single article from the Irish Times on HIV.  

That's it. A single article.  Did I mention that it's World Aids Day?  Now to be fair my feeds tend to only pull stories from the front page or Breaking News sections of newspaper sites, and some newspapers (like the Guardian) do have a World Aids Day section tucked away on their website, but it is certainly not front page news. But if I look back through the last week's worth of coverage in my feeds I find more information about Apple pushing Product (Red) iPods than I do about HIV and AIDS.  

This year's UNAIDS report for once has some good news, reporting that "new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic. New HIV infections were reduced by 21% since 1997, and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses decreased by 21% since 2005" and that "47% (6.6 million) of the estimated 14.2 million people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries were accessing lifesaving antiretroviral therapy in 2010, an increase of 1.35 million since 2009", which is fantastic news indeed. But this still cannot diminish the global tragedy that AIDS continues to be, for again according to the 2011 UNAIDS Report:  

At the end of 2010 an estimated:  

* 34 million [31.6 million – 35.2 million] people globally living with HIV

* 2.7 million [2.4 million – 2.9 million] new HIV infections in 2010

* 1.8 million [1.6 million – 1.9 million] people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2010

 - UNAIDS Press Release, 21/11/11

 Thirty-four million people infected globally, almost two million people dying this year alone, and a tiny block of plastic manufactured in dubious conditions in China is almost the only piece of coverage on the crisis that appears in my reader this morning. Seventeen suicides in the Foxconn plants that make the Product (Red) iPods have received more coverage this year in my feeds than almost two million deaths from the epidemic that the Product (Red) initiative is supposed to be raising awareness of.  

As this year's UNAIDS report has shown, reporting on the global HIV and AIDS epidemic can occasionally strike a positive note with good news for a change, but not reporting at all can have disastrous consequences, with a new generation of sexually active young people ignorant of the dangers of unprotected sex. According to a HSE report launched today, of the 152 new cases reported up to June of this year, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 40% of new HIV cases in Ireland for the first half of this year, and 25% of new cases were female:

- 9.2% of HIV infections were in 15‐24 year olds, 25% were female and less than 8% of new cases were users of injected drugs

- The highest number of cases was reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) accounting for 39.5% of newly diagnosed cases.

- Heterosexual contact accounted for 27.6% of new diagnoses. Among the heterosexual cases, 35.7% were among individuals originating from countries with generalised epidemics. 19% were diagnosed in individuals with a partner originating from a country with a generalised epidemic, with a partner known to be HIV positive or a partner who is an injecting drug user (IDU).

- 7.9% of newly diagnosed cases were among IDUs.  

- "HIV & AIDS in Ireland, Quarter 1&2 2011"

The most alarming figures for me in this report are the rise in infection rates in the under thirties, with 9.2% of all new infections being in 15‐24 year olds, and with more than a third of new MSM cases (36.6%) being amongst 15-29 year olds. It is clear that amongst sexually active Irish youth the fear of AIDS has gone away, possibly in part because of the low levels of coverage HIV and AIDS receives in the media now that general levels have started to decline and access to antiretroviral therapy means that (at least in the Global North) living with HIV is more manageable than it was ten years ago. But a lack of coverage leads to a lack of awareness and complacency, and this in turn risks a rise in infection rates.

The HSE report goes on to say that "Efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV must focus on the the behaviour of those who are HIV negative to reduce the likelihood of them acquiring HIV but efforts must also focus on those who are HIV positive and remain undiagnosed."  

One article today in the Irish print media is a pretty pathetic attempt to promote awareness, and will do nothing to change people's behaviour.  

Though I'm pretty sure someone, somewhere, is writing about iPods.