Need for sympathy and more compassion

AIDS is a word which has inspired dread in the minds of many; it is a disease so destructive in its effect yet so successful in evading man's ingenuity for curing it.

Much anguish has resulted from the millions of deaths caused by the virus. Yet what is most disturbing is not the number of casualties, nor the tragic way in which AIDS sufferers lose control of their lives, but the sheer callousness of the community at large.

Those suffering from AIDS are thought, by some curious turn of logic, to deserve it. The disease is felt to be the sole preserve of drug users, homosexuals and the promiscuous.

Thus, many who are found to be carrying the virus are ostracised and shunned by society. Very often, relatives, friends and colleagues, the ones from whom support should be most forthcoming, are the people who most let down AIDS patients.

The compassion usually shown to those suffering from terminal disease is sadly less than forthcoming when it comes to AIDS.

The prevailing ''holier than thou'' attitude which now permeates the views of many members of the public simply will not do. Not one single person can claim to be free of risk.

Botched blood transfusions are but one way in which even celibate people may catch the deadly pandemic. Countless numbers of babies have caught the disease from their mothers, surely they are innocent of any crime.

Those who do not contract AIDS always run the risk of losing a near or dear one. How anyone could possibly claim that AIDS doesn't affect them is simply beyond comprehension.

The continuing hysteria about a disease which is so hard to transmit is similarly hard to explain. Is sensible and compassionate treatment of those who have hand the misfortune of succumbing to AIDS too much to ask of our community? Education of the public is of utmost importance. AIDS poses a very real threat to our society. In the absence of a cure, prevention appears to be the most sensible way of tackling the epidemic.

Safe sexual practices and a drug-free lifestyle offer the key to preventing a severe outbreak. Whatever is done, however, must be approached in a rational and objective manner. Frenzy and panic will only worsen the problem and increase prejudices againstthose who are infected.

They have to cope with enough suffering without adding ostracism to their troubles. Failure to address the matter can only be to the detriment of our community.

Surely we do not want to go down in history as the generation that was too prudishly hypocritical to attend to a situation of this magnitude. There are an estimated 6,000 people infected with HIV in Hongkong.

Inaction will only allow this number to rise, with devastating consequences. We must take the decision to fight AIDS before the passage of time takes that choice out of our hands.