Final Essay It is clear that various illnesses have not only medical stressors but, also a social, economic and moral impact. HIV/AIDS can have devastating consequences on affected individuals and their support systems. It is a stigmatized illness and people who suffer from this illness are likely to be discriminated against by people in society as well as institutions. Aids/HIV was typically associated with the gay community who did not practice safe sex and had various partners, and drug addicted individuals. Hence, many adopted an attitude that an illness such as this is created by reckless individuals.
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During the 1970’s and the 1980’s, Hepatitis B was a major concern in the United States. The disease seemed easily spreadable by individuals in what seemed to be countless ways. People can contract Hepatitis B by even touching someone’s blood, sharing a cup with another individual or just by being exposed to the same surface that an HB carrier was in contact with. One group in particular that is at risk of contracting and spreading the infection are the health care professional such as doctors, interns, dentists, surgeons and nurses.
A dentist, for example, who is Hepatitis B carrier has a chance of passing on the disease to a patient. Hospital administrations and other agencies immediately recognized the potential danger of the above at risk population. They wanted to “down play” the danger of the risk of infection to spear themselves lawsuits and to avoid public panic. Public panic has the potential of causing havoc in the professional field. Hence, it was falsely concluded that health care workers carriers were not a major source of infection.
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In order to find a solution to a problem one has to fully investigate and understand what is the source of the problem. Acknowledging that a problem does exist is crucial for change to occur. Research efforts to study the relationship between infected health care workers and the transmission of the disease was highly opposed and dismissed by major physicians’ organizations. In addition, government policies encouraged voluntary testing with minimal intervention even when a patient was infected by Hepatitis B.
Health care professionals made a decision to protect their profession by making Hepatitis B a “silent epidemic. ” Most Americans were not aware of the epidemic and how easily it can be spread. The medical professionals concluded that in order to prevent the spread of Hepatitis B one needs to practice good hygiene such as hand washing, use of gloves and face masks. However, there were no policies put in place to enforce good hygiene. The infection control departments for example, found that patient to patient infections was mainly caused by doctors not washing their hands after each patient.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s most educated people were not aware of the difference between Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A. By making Hepatitis B a silent epidemic and “down playing” the risk of infection, there were no policies put in place and no institutions to go to where individuals can learn if they are infected or not. Most carriers were accidently discovered through medical testing. It is almost impossible to overcome a problem without having research done and they were hardly any participants.
In 1982 a vaccine provided the means to stop new cases of Hepatitis B. Despite of this, in the mid 1980’s the epidemic continued and cases increased. Homosexuals were the largest at risk group. The pharmaceutical companies immediately saw the vaccine as an opportunity to make a substantial profit by making the price of the vaccine high. They had complete control over the prices of the vaccine. The epidemic continued because the health professionals continued to deny that Hepatitis B was a national problem.
In addition, for many individuals Hepatitis B was a sexually transmitted disease causing stigma and alienating those infected. I learned from this course that an illnesses associated with upper class such as Lyme disease, tends to motivate policies and groups are formed to prevent the illness. A major flaw in trying to combat Hepatitis B is the refusal of medical professions to bring it to public eye. As a result, there was no public knowledge about the epidemic. Without public knowledge, Hepatitis B remained silent hence preventative policies and programs were not aggressively formed.
The powers at be felt comfortable “misleading the public” by leading them to think that Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease rather than educate them about the illness. The reality was that various groups including health care professionals can get infected by the disease. It is common knowledge in everyday life that individuals that are loud and make a “fuss” about issues draw attention and often get their needs met. It is similar in health issues. Groups that are united, and who are knowledgeable about illness, politics and resources tend to get more accomplished in mplementing policies and advocating for change. Secondary to having a vaccine for Hepatitis B, the labor unions have made a great impact on decreasing new occurrences of Hepatitis B. Unlike health care professionals , the labor union advocated and fought to have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration also know as OSHA force employers to offer individuals the vaccine for no cost. Employees that are considered at risk have the opportunity to get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The use of media can be very useful in making changes.
In previous homework assignments, I learned that HIV/AIDS was downplayed by major media resources such as the New York Times for the sake of avoiding public panic. Without public concern resources tend to be limited. The way in which the Hepatitis B epidemic was handled, effected how HIV and AIDS was handled in the 1980’s. Many of the social and ethical issues that arose during the AIDS epidemic could have been avoided if the public was made aware of the issue/concerns relating to Hepatitis B. Policies should have been implemented during the Hepatitis B epidemic and used as a blue print for future emerging illnesses such as AIDS.
The fact that health professionals treated Hepatitis B as a silent epidemic and did not address the issue of the individual rights over public health, made AIDS a catastrophic social crises. People became more homophobic, discrimination was unbearable. In the article “bucking the health establishment Alexander Milne and the fight for a New Zealand hepatitis b immunization program”, it demonstrates how one persons determination and dedication can single handedly change government policies and awareness about Hepatitis B.
Alexander Milne is a perfect example of how change can occur even from an individual by applying pressure and utilizing various resources including the media. Milne took the time to educate various professionals whom he felt are at risk of Hepatitis B. Milne talked to whomever listened about his concerns and was relentless about his cause. It is clear that there are many factors taken in consideration when it comes to health issues and policies. Overall it appears that we came a long way in the past twenty five years since the AIDS/HIV epidemic emerged.
However, we have a long way to go. Money, class and social status play a significant role in policy making and government intervention. It is sad to say that when certain illnesses affect the poor for example, funds are almost nonexistent. Part of the problem is lack of self advocacy and lack of media support. On a positive note, change can occur if individuals learn that they can make a difference in changing policies with dedication and persistence.