HIV is one of the worst things that happened in human history and there is no doubt about that. Even though there is not a single medicine or conservative and invasive treatment procedures that could save a person with AIDS’ life, at least in the future, we do know how to prevent it, and that already brings us in a good position in this decades long battle against a virus. There have been a lot of ongoing conventional metaphors about AIDS (e.g. HIV is a virus that evolves and lingers in a person’s system throughout his lifetime, endangering other people to become infected and suffer from the same signs and symptoms of the disease, probably even worse), just like the ones that existed during the time when the plague was the most dreadful disease the people were experiencing.
They say plague is a punishment directly sent by God, and so on. Rhetorics have been widely used whenever a new infectious or communicable disease kills several thousand people, and this is a fact. Now that we are currently facing a losing battle against HIV, I can say that we are in a somewhat similar situation, several decades ago when the plague poured down death sentences in the planet. After having read Elizabeth Pisani’s works on HIV and AIDS (HIV is basically the early form of AIDS; AIDS is the evolved form of HIV), especially the Sacred Cows of HIV, and after having understood her arguments and ideas about the current way how the governments, even the richest ones advertise AIDS and do close to nothing to prevent it, I could say that my perspective regarding the use of metaphors in explaining the different medical and other complicated mechanisms ongoing in a body of an HIV-infected person has flipped close to 180 degrees, meaning in an opposite direction.
If you come to think of it, metaphors could do a great deal of work in making lay people understand the complicated mechanism behind a disease, which in past cases, are plague, and other widespread diseases. Lay people would most likely not have understood what a disease was, if the authorities had not used a metaphor to pass on the “hard to understand” information about every disease. But metaphors are basically the same with similes only that they do not place a single emphasis on the differences between two objects or ideas. This is basically why I believe metaphors are important. They are meant to help. But what made me lean against the use of metaphors and other rhetorics was Pisani’s statement in a TV interview with BBC and the Guardian, inquiring why most of his colleagues in the United States and other NGOs would prefer to exchange tortuous memos agonizing over the most sensitive wording of something as simple as men who have sex with men”.
The use of metaphors, at least in the case of HIV and AIDS, complicates the people’s ideas about the disease, instead of making it simple. This should immediately show to the authorities that the use of metaphor’s purpose—to simplify everything and make a comprehensive analogy out of something that is medically complicated and not easy to understand by ordinary to people, entirely defeated. We definitely know how to counter this disease, even though there is no real cure to it. We could focus on prevention, but in fact, that is the hardest part because the majority of the governments with existing programs against the spread of this disease evidently do not want to invest on sex workers, homosexuals—populations which have the highest HIV transmission rates.
Pisani encourages the use of direct-to-the-point, and even blunt words in increasing the people’s awareness, and not rhetorics, metaphors, and other tortuous methods that complicates the issue even more. Furthermore, I agree with how Pisani view things about people who get or may be infected with HIV. They are not stupid, yes; but they certainly do stupid things, or at least they would, and these are two different things. Sometimes, it is best to deal things directly than to use language devices and other indirect methods. Pisani showed to us that these things could be very ineffective and even more harmful than helpful at times; example, right now, in our ongoing battle against HIV and AIDS.
Aitkenhead, D. "People do Stupid Things - That's What Spreads HIV." The Guardian (2008).