HIV/AIDS are a collection of symptoms which affect the immune system. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the result of HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus). This disease is one that affects people on a global scale and a disease that needs to be addressed and acted upon immediately. But is HIV/AIDS a social problem? One understanding of a social problem is an issue that has been created which affects society in one way or another. A more justified definition is that a social problem is ‘a condition that undermines the well-being of some or all members of society and that is usually a matter of public controversy’ (Macionis, 2005: 4).
HIV/AIDS is considered a social problem because of the way it is affecting people within society. Although HIV/AIDS itself was not created by society, it is the way it affects society and how it is being dealt with that makes it a social problem. In the United Kingdom there were 63,500 of adults living with HIV/AIDS in 2005.
By exploring the origins of HIV/AIDS, its effect on society in the United Kingdom and the consequences of those effects will help to justify the conclusion that HIV/AIDS is a social problem and its nature as a social problem.
The HIV/AIDS is a virus that is thought to have originated from primates in Africa which transferred to humans in the 20th centaury. It was not until the year of 1989 that HIV/AIDS officially became an epidemic. The disease can be transmitted through three main routes; sexually – unprotected sex when secretions of fluid with the disease are passed from one person to another.
Childbirth – known as the mother to child transmission where the mother has the disease and passes it onto the baby during childbirth.
Thirdly through blood – this can be transmitted through blood transfusions, sharing of unsterilised needles and even through tattoos and piercing of the body. Many people are unaware that they carry the virus as they do not get tested for sexually transmitted diseases or they have no knowledge that they may be carrying anything in the first place. Especially in less economically developed countries many people are not educated enough and do not know about contraception and the disease. In Europe there were 327,068 cases of HIV/AIDS at the end of 2006.
Central Europe had the lowest cases of HIV/AIDS and Eastern Europe has the most cases of HIV/AIDS. Worldwide Europe has one of the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS. Especially in Western Europe the majority of all countries are more economically developed countries, so they have the money, doctors and knowledge to tackle HIV/AIDS and control it although there is still no cure. Globally HIV/AIDS main epidemic is in Africa, 2. 5 million People lived with HIV at the end of 2007 with the epidemic claiming 1. 6 million lives.
The epidemic in Africa is one that is still growing. The majority of countries within Africa are less economically developed countries, so therefore these countries lack money. They do not have doctors, technology and knowledge of healthcare to tackle HIV/AIDS like most western countries which is why there are so many cases of HIV/AIDS in Africa. In the UK there has been a conscious effort in responding to HIV/AIIDS through different mediums such as the government, voluntary organisations and charities.
Educating people on sexually transmitted diseases is important, and in the UK this is usually done through sex education at schools and colleges. When a person is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS it is fair to say that they are likely to exclude themselves from society. This is because of the way society responds and treats a person with the disease. People tend to be ignorant and nai??ve, mainly because it is such a deadly disease and therefore, they do not want to catch it themselves. They act so unsupportively by not touching a person infected with HIV/AIDS or not sharing food or cutlery for the fear of catching HIV/AIDS.
Social exclusion can be defined as follows ‘the dynamic process of being shut out, fully or partially, from any of the social, economic, political and cultural systems which determine the social integration of a person in society’ (Walker & Walker, 1997:8) This definition supports how people are being socially excluded from society if they carry HIV/AIDS. It is this ignorance which exaggerates the disease and makes it a social problem because they take HIV/AIDS by face value and fail to realise that there is more to the disease then just catching it through promiscuity.
Such actions within society create inequalities. To be equal within society means that everyone should be treated the same or “equal”. Inequality exists when people are not treated the same or when a group or an individual is purposely being treated unfairly because of a factor which, idealistically, should not be an issue. There are typically seven perspectives on inequality and in this case the perspective is social pathology. This means that within society morals and values are being taken advantage of and exploited.
With these inequalities existing, it can lead to unnecessary breakdowns in communities, pushing them apart as opposed to bringing them together like it should be. Community can mean different things to different people. One way of determining its meaning is by describing it. Community tends to be tighter knit then society, for example, a neighbourhood; common characteristics that link people together. In the case of a neighbourhood it is that fact that people all live in the same area or street.
An example of how community breakdowns can occur is if someone in the neighborhood had the HIV/AIDS virus, people within the neighborhood will start to talk. Whether they will be supportive or not is anyone’s guess, but if one person from this community felt like they did not want to touch or come near to the person with the virus then others within the neighbourhood or community will see that behavior and feel that it is okay to do the same and so forth. Eventually the community could end up divided and therefore creating a breakdown.
Everyone has the right to be happy but unfortunately this is no the case in society. Health is important in life. With the absence of health in ones life then that can lead to unhappiness, and if someone is unhappy then they are more likely to exclude themselves from society. A person carrying a disease such as HIV/AIDS is likely to be unhappy as a result. As time goes by and they start to accept their illness they can make that journey back to being a happy person. Just because someone is suffering does not necessarily mean that they will be unhappy.
For example, a woman could be carrying HIV/AIDS and could have been carrying it for many years yet she is happy whereas another lady who does not have HIV/AIDS, is perfectly healthy yet is very unhappy for other reasons. This illustrates that there is no reason for anyone with the disease to not be happy. It is everyone’s own responsibility within society to take care of their health and wellbeing and if this is not the case, whether it is through the own fault or not, they should not be punished for it and should be able to deal with it themselves in whatever way they feel is best for them.
It should not be forgotten that there are other issues as well in society that are also classed as social problems. There are other health related issues such as smoking and alcohol abuse. Just like HIV/AIDS these issues also need to be addressed. With so many social problems within society today it can be hard to determined which problems are most important or which problems need to be addressed first. It is hard to determine these therefore making social problems difficult to tackle.
One way society tries to tackle and respond to such problems are by conducting social movements. These can take place through different forms including picket lines, public meetings and petitions. They usually occur when a group of people have a cause to fight for. It may be something they believe in, ethical issues, to make a stand or simply to help a situation. With health related issues these can be useful in order to make a stand or try and make changes within society for the better.
Although not all social movements may be for the better and sometimes be for alternative motives, they can be successful and make really make changes. For example a musician named Bob Geldof started a campaign called Live Aid and by using his social status, he put together many different concerts all around the world on the same day in order to make a stand and help raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS which proved to be very successful. These movements do have a positive impact- if they work successfully.
Sometimes it is hard for someone with a lower social status from society to try and make a change so big, that it will have an effect but in saying this it does not stop people from going ahead with them and trying their best to do what they can by doing their bit. Sometimes the root of social problems can begin closer to home. Family life can affect the behavior, attitudes and the outlook on life of people. If family life is not the traditional, nuclear family and relationships are broken down then it can lead to people wanting to rebel.
It can lead to, for example, promiscuity and sleeping with different partners without protection in order to compensate or put aside the pain of problems that they are suffering at home. Through these actions, sexually transmitted diseases can be picked up one of which could possibly be HIV/AIDS. This then leads to that person feeling down and adds to the beginning of the chain that makes HIV/AIDS a social problem. This is simply an example but for some people in society it is reality, and that is when family problems become social problems.
I have come to the conclusion that HIV/AIDS is a social problem. This is because I feel that the HIV/AIDS disease can be fatal and cause serious health problems. This then leads to different factors in society making it a social problem. It is a problem that needs to be addressed. There has been efforts made by governments and voluntary organisations to respond to HIV/AIDS in society but it should not be forgotten that there are also other social problems that need to be addressed.
Also HIV/AIDS receives a lot of media attention and therefore it is fair to say that people within society are aware of the disease and its seriousness. It does contribute to social problems within society because of the way society treats the issue. It is not only in the UK but HIV/AIDS is widespread across the world particularly in Africa where the epidemic is at its worst. It may be that because it so bad in Africa that more attention has been diverted there in order to tackle it and sufferers in the UK have slightly been neglected.
It may not be deliberate neglect but it is causing problems. These problems are the issues that were addressed previously in this essay. Breakdown within communities weakens links between people and inevitably having a knock on effect on society. Then inequalities start to appear and social exclusion and so forth. HIV/AIDS will always be a social problem for many years to come as long as it exists, and unless the attitudes of society, particularly in the UK do not change, then it unlikely that HIV/AIDS will just be a disease like any other rather then a disease that is a social problem.
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