I had a hard time getting started on this post.
My trouble is that I want us to have a real conversation about HIV. One that changes behavior (makes you stop doing crazy stuff that can kill you) and empowers (makes you do something within your sphere of influence to prevent at least one new HIV diagnosis).
My interest in our tackling this problem began a couple of months ago when a high school classmate, Octavia Richmond, MPH, posted an announcement about free HIV screenings on her Facebook profile. Octavia serves as program director of the HIV/STD Care Center at Jackson Park Hospital in Chicago. She and her staff are committed to slowing down and, eventually, stopping the spread of HIV in South Shore – a community on the South Side that has extremely high infection rates.
Octavia and her staff were hosting an HIV awareness event in recognition of National Testing Day. My plan was to get a little background on HIV and the event and to do a small post that encouraged you to get tested. Octavia and I talked and to say that I felt overwhelmed is an understatement. I had a shock and awe experience.
You know that YOU MAKE ME SICK is about solutions, right? But before we can make a difference in slowing down and stopping the spread of HIV, we have to know the facts:
Someone is infected with HIV every 9 1/2 minutes.
Did you get that? In the time that it takes you to make breakfast, read this blog post, write a couple of e-mails, make a phone call, upload a CD to iTunes or have an orgasm someone is infected with HIV, which, over time, damages the immune system and puts people at risk for illnesses that they would not normally get.
1 Million people are living with HIV and 20 percent of them do not know it.
Let me break that down for you. There are at least 200,000 people in the United States (just so you are clear that we are not talking about “third-world” countries) who do not know that they are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infection leads to the development of AIDS and you can find a more detailed explanation of the connection between the two by visiting the website of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago at www.aidschicago.org.
HIV/AIDS is not a gay man’s disease.
Black men and women and Hispanic men have extremely high HIV infection rates when compared with other ethnic groups. Nearly 500,000 of the 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS are black. And black women, most of them heterosexual, account for 61 percent of new HIV infections and make up 66 percent of people living with AIDS. Blacks are losing mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, daughters, sons, cousins, grandmothers, grandfathers, neighbors, and friends to this disease at rates that are not experienced by any other group.
No one is exempt from HIV. No one.
Octavia shared that teens and seniors think that they are untouchable when it comes to HIV infection. At the time of our conversation, a 74-year-old man who received services at her Center tested positive for HIV.
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I was able to categorize the plethora of information that I received from Octavia into three action items:
1. Awareness: Know your status.
There are free or low-cost HIV and STD testing centers in your area. To find one, enter your zip code in this widget:
2. Educate: Remove the stigma and have safe sex.
My next post will be a profile on Evany Turk, an HIV-positive inspiration. Subscribe to this blog (see link in top right corner) so that you do not miss her call to action.
3. Collaborate: Let’s work together on this.
It will take a collective effort – individuals, groups, government, faith community – to slow down and stop the spread of HIV. Send me an e-mail or post a comment with referrals of people and organizations that are making a difference and I will highlight them on YOU MAKE ME SICK.
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So let’s talk. To get the conversation started I asked a few of you to share your HIV testing histories. You said:
I got tested twice in 1992 when I discovered that I was in a monogamous relationship but my boyfriend wasn’t. Married, female, 36.
I got tested once a year when I was in the military. It was part of my annual physical. Divorced, male, 37.
I have been tested for HIV twice. Once in college and then right before I got married. My husband and I both got tested before we got married. To me, it was simple. I knew I’d participated in risky behavior and felt it was my responsibility to get tested – both for myself and my future husband. Married, female, 33.
I have been tested twice this year. Once as part of my physical exam and again when I gave blood. Single, male, 35.
I made getting an HIV test a part of my annual physical regardless of whether I’ve had sex. This makes the process seem more routine and eliminates anxiety on my end. Single, female, 30.
Now it is your turn. Do you know your status? If not, how can we help you?
Is that too personal? If so, share an idea on how you will make a difference. Keep in mind that the goal is to impact your sphere of influence. That can mean that you support a friend who is afraid to get tested by going with him or her to an HIV test center.