AIDS is now a dreaded fact of life: easy to fear, difficult to face. Yet ignorance, hysteria and a "witch-hunt" mentality are as dangerous as the disease itself. This week, cable television offers two responsible specials on AIDS, aimed at heightening public awareness.
"AIDS: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know . . . But Were Afraid to Ask," an HBO special airing tonight at 8, is hosted by the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. C. Everett Koop, who dispels fear with straight talk.
Calmly, Koop answers anxious questions about the disease: how it is spread, what and when to tell children about it and whether public places such as day-care centers, dentists offices, schools and swimming pools are cause for worry.
Koop stresses the importance of monogamous relationships, emphasising that voluntary AIDS testings is a safeguard for couples planning marriage, as well as for high risk groups and any sexually active adult with more than one partner in the last 10 years.
But Koop is also concerned that society not reject those already infected with the disease--and that includes men, women and children.
He bluntly reminds those who may believe that AIDS is a divine punishment that no one has the right to assume the role of judge: "Even if it began in a class of people you are not comfortable with, we are now fighting a disease, not a people."
If high-risk groups are difficult for mainstream America to identify with, a documentary airing Thursday at 6 p.m. on the Lifetime cable channel may bring the issue wrenchingly home.
"Dying For Love: A Lifetime Special on the Impact of AIDS on the American Woman" is a shattering account of four women infected with AIDS. It is narrated by a fifth woman with ARC (AIDS Related Complex), who appears on camera in disguise, fearing threats to family and job.
Women with AIDS are in the minority, but along with all AIDS-sufferers, they experience the stigma of the disease and its isolation.
(It seems unnecessarily distancing for the film to suggest that homosexuals may suffer less because they have "managed to band together in a solidarity spirit," particularly because it is shown that gay groups are sources of support to women with AIDS.)
All five women here are mothers; four have lost loved ones to AIDS--children, husbands, lovers. There is Laurie, the wife of a hemophiliac who received contaminated blood; Kathleen, the wife of a bisexual man; Elizabeth, who contracted the disease from her long-time lover, an IV drug user, and Terah, who thinks a brief sexual encounter is responsible.
All have experienced devastating rejection. Kathleen was evicted from her home, refused emergency medical treatment and shunned by her church. Her 14-year-old daughter has received death threats. Laurie, whose husband and baby son died of AIDS, was told her healthy daughter is not welcome at the local day-care center.
Yet all four women are fighters, telling their stories in order to help others protect themselves.
"Dying For Love" was produced by Dave Bell Associates; "AIDS: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know . . . But Were Afraid to Ask" was produced by Concepts Unlimited.