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Abstract

HIV has created two epidemics, one of disease, the other the consequence of the psychological response to that disease. Thus far, behavioral change is the only effective means of interrupting the transmission of HIV. The underlying psychological dimensions of the societal and individual responses to AIDS are discussed, with suggestions for how both rational thinking and irrational fears and anxiety contribute to the development of public policy. Examples are given of how short-term solutions to reduce anxiety may actually create long-term problems, potentially increasing the risk of transmission of HIV. Specific psychological mechanisms that contribute to the epidemic of fear are explained. Understanding the fears and incorporating them into a coherent plan for addressing behavioral change are essential if the epidemic is to be contained. Public figures have a responsibility to resist short-term solutions in response to public anxiety.

 

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