Age dependent variation in bioethical issues with reference to AIDS & its cure

- Darryl Macer
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba,
Tsukuba Science City 305-8572, Japan
Email: jazariah@yahoo.com

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 188.
Introduction

India is the country in the world with the most persons infected by HIV and suffering from AIDS. For some time the Indian authorities were placid about the issue which led to the widespread infection rate. We therefore conducted a survey on this issue among the educated community in Chennai, who in some ways act as the backbone of society.

Methods

In the present investigation, the queries regarding the ethical issues in religion and life, AIDS and its cure, gene therapy, organ transplantation and also on the environmental ethics and their importance were raised among the educated persons.

An opinion survey was conducted among two groups of educated people: (1) Students and (2) Teachers located in and around Chennai. The participants of this survey were 41 college students in the age group of 19 to 26, and 30 college professors, in the age group of 26-40. In both the cases, they belong to different religions such as Hindu, Christian and Muslims. A questionnaire was administered, where the participants expressed their opinion on a five-point scale (1) Strongly agree; (2) Agree; (3) Don't know; (4) Disagree and (5) Strongly disagree. The frequency and the percentage of their opinions were calculated.

Results

Out of the 5 topics discussed, AIDS and its core were assessed for the present investigation. It is interesting to note that many of the students were more informed about AIDS then the teachers. 66% of the students agreed that AIDS cannot be transmitted like other contagious diseases like the common cold and tuberculosis (Q41), whereas 59% of the teachers knew the mode of infection. It has been reported that many doctors who treat AIDS have fear of infection.

More students (73%) than teachers (29%) associated declining morals with increasing incidence of AIDS (Q42). These views further substantiated the claims of the teachers (67%) that some regulatory norms must be strictly maintained in order to control the spread of AIDS. It is discouraging that some teachers (3%) did not recognize this social factor at all.

Both teachers (59%) and students (85%) agree that the reports of AIDS patients should be confidential (Q43). Many of the educated community have proper understanding in treating AIDS patients. This response correlates with their attitude to mode of infection as expressed in Q45. The level of aspiration to discover scientific remedies for curing AIDS is higher among teachers (56%) than students (34%).

While both groups of the educated community agree AIDS patients can undertake clinical trials (Q46), a fraction of teachers (24%) have expressed ignorance about clinical trials. It is interesting to note that the present younger generation (59%) is of the opinion that premarital AIDS testing is necessary (Q47), as a social requisite for marriage. Again it is interesting to note that more students (83%) knew about informed consent (Q48) than the teachers (70%). More than 14% of teachers expressed ignorance about informed consent. Hence it is necessary to evolve suitable teaching modules in this area.

Both categories of educated people agree that the children of AIDS patients were the most affected among the family members (Q49). However, 10% of teachers have some reservations in this area. Generally the Indian community feels that prevention of AIDS infection is better than its cure.

Unfortunately the Indian community is quite ignorant about AIDS. Since the mass media (Q51) has played a major role in raising awareness of AIDS, one means to educate is to evolve more educational programs via multimedia for AIDS control. If AIDS teaching is to be introduced at the middle class level, below 8 years old, as suggested by the students (34% in Q52), or from secondary level as more favoured by teachers (44%), both will create more awareness among the younger generation. With respect to the personal relationships of themselves with AIDS patients, a compassionate attitude was expressed by teachers (31%). It is interesting to note that they agreed that the spouse/fiance must be informed (Q54) if one contracts AIDS, and the incidence of AIDS in a patient should be kept confidential at the hospital level.

Some of the significant points to this topic are: 1) The majority of participants were well informed that AIDS is not a contagious disease like common cold or tuberculosis. 2) College students perceived a correlation between declining morals and increasing AIDS. 3) The community feels that some social regulatory norms must be strictly maintained in order to control the spread of AIDS. 4) Most respondents believed that reports of AIDS patients must be kept in confidence but their spouses/ fiances must be informed. 5) The level of aspirations to discover scientific remedies for curing AIDS is higher among the students. 6) The younger generation is of the opinion that the premarital AIDS diagnosis is necessary.

Conclusion

It is interesting to note that the student community was better informed than the teachers. Also, it is highly discouraging that, teachers did not recognize the social factors of AIDS because they have inferred often with "I don't know" responses. In particular 14% of the teachers said they were ignorant in the area of informed consent. However, it is encouraging that the educated community has proper understanding in treating AIDS patients. Hence it is necessary to evolve suitable teaching modules in this area. The Indian community feels that prevention of AIDS infection is a better approach than waiting for its cure.

Acknowledgments

The authors are thankful to Prof. D. Lalitha Kumari, for providing laboratory space in the Centre for Advanced Studies in Botany. The financial assistance of the DOE (Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi) is gratefully acknowledged.


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