One million people are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and one out of five of those living with the virus are unaware of their status. We are now in our 30th year since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported - which has claimed nearly 30 million lives to date. Thankfully, with time, researchers and doctors have been able to study the virus and develop medications to combat HIV at various stages of its life cycle, which has led to more desirable outcomes in individuals infected with HIV which include: prolonged life, HIV virus suppression and an increase in CD4 cells (cells that help fight off infection).
While medications have helped in the fight against HIV, there are still many obstacles that we must overcome. The epidemic has changed drastically since its discovery; what once was seen as a “gay, white man’s disease” has come to be a global disease that has infected everyone from our most precious babies to our most delicate, senior citizens. Even more-so, there have been particular ethnic groups that have been hard hit by this epidemic.
African Americans make up a mere 12% of the U.S. population but account for almost half (44%) of all new HIV infections. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that 1 in 16 black men and 1 in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lives, and as a black woman I can tell you, that, is one too many! For this reason I decided to join the fight six years ago because I refused to sit back and watch my peers become infected.
We’ve done an excellent job of talking about the medications and stressing the fact that people are living longer than ever with HIV, but we’ve forgotten to mention that people are still dying from this disease and it’s happening daily.
The CDC along with many other local community based organizations have made great strides in fighting HIV, and for the first time ever, a president, OUR president, has created a National HIV/AIDS Strategy to proactively address the epidemic. Many of us that work in the field have been tasked with finding innovative ways to implement the strategy in an effort to reduce new HIV infections, increase access to care for those living with HIV and reduce the number of HIV related health disparities.
All of the paid work that we do around HIV has been great but some of the most amazing work has happened at the grassroots level from concerned individuals who have simply cared enough to act. That being said, I am making a plea to everyone who reads this…
I urge you to get involved on any level! We can all be advocates and fight for those who are not quite ready to fight for themselves. Your voice matters, it always has, and always will! Use it to educate yourself, friends, family and associates, use it to reduce stigma, and use it to help prevent another infection from happening. Take to your respective platforms, be it your social networks, community groups, churches and other faith-based institutions or school body associations, and join me in being a voice for the voiceless!
Take responsibility, take control of your health, be proactive! Ask your partner what their status is and get tested together and if you are engaging in sexual activity, use a condom! From this day forward, I ask you, what role will you play?
For more information about HIV and AIDS, visit www.aids.gov and for free and confidential testing sites throughout the U.S. visit www.hivtest.org