HIV – No

When speaking about HIV, or indeed any virus, it’s first necessary to establish that virus cultures are not living organisms. They are simply protein-coated strands of genetic information with no characteristics of life whatsoever; merely infecting cells and replicating their genetic information through the cell. The reality is that any virus culture is non-discriminative, it will inhabit any host that has been introduced to the virus. There is no host that is preferable to the virus, there are no conditions that precipitate the virus being the final outcome of a particular lifestyle. We are seeing a rise in the virus in heterosexual women; a group once believed to be the least likely to be exposed to the virus. Unfortunately, we cannot discuss HIV as an isolated issue, exclusive to homosexual men or intravenous drug users any longer. It is a dangerous mindset to take, because this ill informed mindset is a very large contributor to the reality that heterosexual women are now faced with a dramatic increase in HIV infection by convincing ourselves into denial that it is a lifestyle disease.

With that said, there is an element of ‘Social Darwinism’ that surrounds HIV infection. Social Darwinism is an essentialist notion that the hierarchical system of our societies are the result of physical or mental weakness in human beings that cannot meet the standards of our normative discourse. The belief that weaker human beings are ‘weeded’ out by chronic illness and infectious disease is also a part of this essentialism. We have, historically, attributed a number of illnesses to those that we consider to be underserving, lesser examples of human beings; but, of course, we fail to recognize that it is this type of thinking and the prejudices that stem from these beliefs that have rendered the upper rungs of society inaccessible to those ‘undesirables’. Through our prejudices, there manifested various forms of discrimination that have established systemic barriers to all those that have been deemed lesser. It is only because of our own faulty thinking that these people, deemed to be undesirables, have been excluded from mainstream society to begin with. To put it succinctly, those who are marginalized have been marginalized by the faulty thinking of social ecology. In HIV infection, the virus was first discovered in gay males and intravenous drug users. Of course, these two groups of people have historically been two of the undesirables of western society because of cultural, religious and normative beliefs. Both groups have been perceived to be weaklings, and affronts to everything defined by our moral dispositions to be sickly, unnatural and undeserving. Almost instantly, the virus gained a stigma byproxy because of the two main groups that it infected.

It can be said in human ecology that any virus strain is, in essence, a means to advance the evolution of our species and kill off the weak links that are preventing this evolution. However, this conclusion is something that would excuse the value of human life on the basis that a disease is simply a natural means of killing a weak human being. Imagine a world where because someone had contracted the flu and then were simply cast away to die without any consideration of the possibility of achieving an effective treatment, vaccination or outright cure of the viral strains. In fact, this was more or less the case in our past. There was a time that what is now a mild case of influenza now, would have been a death sentence in an all but forgotten time. Following the doctrine of Social Darwinism, by all means, this should be the case today. If people with a virus are meant to die, then we should simply let them die until every single person has perished of the virus that will be infected by the virus, while those that are fit to survive have developed an immunity. The challenge here is that we now have a much faster and more effective means of producing immunity: vaccines. We have also synthesized countless treatments and made incredible strides in biomedical engineering that many diseases have all but vanished. We now know much more about the biochemistry of the HIV virus than we did in the mid 80’s and that HIV residual pools reside in the bone marrow. All of this comes from extensive study from the life sciences. If history provides any foresight, it is that the potential for human ingenuity has trumped nature time and time again; therefore, it is much more justifiable to conclude that our ingenuity will eventually overcome this pandemic.

There is no reason to believe that overcoming HIV infections and developing a treatment effective enough to make HIV infection seem as minimal as a mild case of influenza does now. It will require a vast amount of resource devoted to making this a reality; it will cost money, it will involve loosening the patent laws that surround the HIV treatment monopoly, it will involve a drastic shift in normative beliefs and a removal of stigma. But most of all, it will require support. I believe that it is time for recognition from all people, from any part of the social stratus, that HIV is here, it can affect anyone and there can be an end to the virus. Regardless of our moral position, simply for the value of human life, HIV education and a firm monetary support and recognition of the strides of biomedical research is absolutely essential; or else HIV really will become a population reduction mechanism whether we like it or not.