AIDS: SENSITIVITY OF THE CONDITION AND THE DILEMMA OF DISCLOSURE

AIDS is the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a condition that can be blamed on the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. It leads to the deterioration of the immune system which allows the proliferation of fatal infections and cancers. The virus may be transmitted through infected blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal fluid or breast milk. Studies indicate that the virus originated from Africa during the rise of colonial rule and social changes geared towards widespread sexual promiscuity, prostitution, and the inevitable consequence of genital ulcer diseases.

Given the immoral implications of the activities that lead to AIDS, the condition is more sensitive in comparison to other health conditions. The condition carries with it a stigma that gives rise to social isolation due to the ostracized treatment from other people who nurture the fear of getting infected, on top of the judgment attached to the character of the victim. AIDS victims can be ostracized beyond social circles – the disclosure of their condition can have such far reaching consequences to the extent of affecting their professional lives and financial capacity.

In conservative societies where culture and religion frown upon any discussions about sexuality, the possibility of being infected with AIDS becomes an even more sensitive issue. Schools are unwilling to educate their students on the condition, employees are unwilling to take AIDS tests, and employers are not legally allowed to mandate such tests. Because AIDS is a problem people in general are unwilling to prepare for, it should come as no surprise that they are even more unwilling to face the problem when it stares them in the face. This is exactly what happens when the identity of an AIDS victim is disclosed.

Consequently, governments have implemented policies which strictly prohibit the disclosure of information related to AIDS testing without the written consent of the victim. The level of confidentiality is to such an extent that even families and partners are not allowed access to such information, blood banks are not allowed to confirm if the blood donations given to them are free from HIV, and AIDS testing cannot be mandated no matter what risk the circumstances involve. Medical personnel are left with the legal and ethical dilemma of keeping AIDS test results confidential even if such results can save another person from acquiring the condition, or giving the AIDS victim a venue for moral and emotional support.

The non disclosure issue on AIDS boils down to this: there is the need for the written consent of the victim. Without such consent, there can be no proper disclosure by medical personnel. The ethical and legal ramifications of improper disclosure are born by medical personnel who end up caught in the middle – between the victim they are required to protect, and everyone else, who they are also required to protect. The social ramifications of improper disclosure is born by the AIDS victim and everyone else who are forced to confront sex related issues no one wants to discuss.

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