New poll says fewer Americans think AIDS threat is serious
July 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
Fewer people believe the overall threat of AIDS is very serious these days, but a majority of Americans say they worry about the impact of the sexually transmitted disease on the nation's children, an Associated Press poll found. That decline in fears about AIDS comes at a time when the disease is showing signs of making a comeback in the United States.
About six in 10--61%--said they feel AIDS is a "very serious" problem, according to the poll conducted for the Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs. When people were asked in 1987 how serious AIDS was as a national health problem, almost nine in 10 said it was "very serious." Revolutionary new drugs allow people to live longer with AIDS, and young gay men have no memories of the devastating early days of the sexually transmitted disease two decades ago.
Health officials fear complacency could contribute to a comeback of the disease. Their fears were confirmed a year ago when AIDS diagnoses increased for the first time in a decade. Only two in 10 polled said they were concerned they would personally be infected with HIV, but more than half, 51%, said they were worried that a son or daughter could be infected. "The way I look at it, kids are going to be kids," said Mike Savicz, a 45-year-old father from Albuquerque, N.M., "like what we did when we were teenagers."
More than six in 10 of those with children said they were concerned that a child might be affected. Even four in 10 of those with no children acknowledged fears about the possibility of a child being infected, if they had one.
Teaching safer sex should be a high priority to curb HIV, Savicz said, noting that promoting abstinence is likely to get a cynical reaction from teenagers: "Yeah, yeah, like I'm going to do that." A majority in the poll, 55%, said teaching safer-sex practices should be the focus of efforts to prevent AIDS, rather than promoting abstinence, backed by 40%.
Americans say they support the $15 billion the United States has pledged to help fight AIDS in developing countries overseas. But when asked whether the money should go abroad or be used to fight the epidemic at home, they choose keeping the money here by a 2-1 margin.
Other findings of the poll include:
Minorities were three times more likely than nonminorities to say AIDS should be a top financial priority for the government.
Those most likely to see AIDS as a "very serious" problem include women, minorities, those with a high school education or less, Democrats, and those who make less than $25,000 a year.
Older adults were more likely to favor abstinence as a way to reduce HIV infections. Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to favor teaching safer-sex practices. Those making more than $75,000 a year also favored safer-sex instruction.
Four in 10 polled said they know someone who has AIDS, died of it, or has been infected by HIV.
When asked what health problem should be the federal government's highest priority for spending on medical research, people were most likely to say cancer. AIDS, Alzheimer's, and heart disease tied for a distant second. (AP)