Yes, we are still talking about HIV/AIDS

It seems like we’ve been talking about HIV/AIDS forever, right? I can’t remember NOT talking about it, being born in ’81 and all. It seems like someone is always beating us over the head with statistics like, “there are more than 1 million adults and adolescents in the United States living with HIV; Approximately one-fifth of them (21%) do not know that they are HIV-infected,” (DHHS). From healthcare workers to celebrities, everyone is imploring us to wrap it up, practice safe sex, and be discerning when choosing our sexual partners. And several times a year, through television commercials, subway ads, radio spots and retweets, we’re encouraged to get tested. We are totally inundated with information about HIV/AIDS. If that’s the case, however, why do people continued to get infected? Why are we still dying from AIDS if we know so much about the disease? In observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), let me ask that question again; Why are WE – as in women, girls, and women of color especially* – still dying from AIDS?

Today I’m joining many other bloggers in writing about the AIDS epidemic for NWGHAAD. I’m doing it because I sincerely believe that we need to prevent more cases of HIV from cropping up and spreading. I certainly do not want to get infected myself or have to watch a loved one struggle with such a destructive disease. More than anything, I want people to be responsible for their health and especially their sexual and reproductive health. Still, I had a hard time deciding how to approach this post.

I didn’t want to harp on the awareness day concept. True, there are a grip of HIV/AIDS awareness days.** The thing is, I think we are pretty much aware of HIV/AIDS in this country. Folks might not know all of the details about living with HIV or how the virus works in your body, but I don’t think I’m making a great leap of logic when I say that the population most rapidly becoming infected with the virus (young women) knows what the hell it is and how you get it. I tried looking at the statistics on HIV/AIDS and honestly, I not terribly moved. That’s not because the stats aren’t upsetting or atrocious. It’s because I’ve already seen that show. I can’t speak from the perspective of having someone close to me be diagnosed (at least not to my knowledge). So, I just tried to ask myself what is it about HIV/AIDS and its prevalance among women and girls that matters to ME? I found that it’s not the intangible, abstract statistics but instead it’s the fact that AIDS is here. AIDS is real.

Do you know how east it would be for you or me to become infected? SO EASY. If you’re a woman, much easier than men. If you have unprotected sex… If you have unprotected ORAL SEX (and let’s be real, folks are not using dental dams and condoms when they go down) it can happen at anytime. That blows my mind.

I touched on it above, but let me reiterate – taking charge of one’s health that is the key to discussing this epidemic as well as the key to ending it. We need to normalize testing. One shouldn’t have to feel shame to say they’ve gotten tested. It really should be like saying you went to get your teeth cleaned – basic healthcare. We should empower our friends, family and ourselves to demand that our partners get tested and that we use protection because it’s the NORMAL thing to do. People who are living with the disease need to speak out. Instead of shunning them, we ought to learn from them and see how much like us they really are. I find that it’s not the abstract stats that will keep me from getting HIV; the reality and closeness of HIV in our daily lives is what motivates me to get tested and be safe.

So today, on this NWGHAAD, I encourage you to look around at the reality of the world we live in and resolve to take control of your health. Don’ t be afraid to get tested. Make appointments to find out your status a normal, routine occurence. Have an expectation of safety in your sexual relationships (whether casual or committed) just like you would expect to be safe from violence or coercion. Finally, don’t shame or ostracize those who have the disease, but instead shake your finger at those who shun condoms and then school them on the realities of HIV/AIDS.

*Eighty-eight percent of the females aged 13-19, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from 2004 to 2007, were infected through heterosexual sexual contact.
In 2006, the incidence rate of new HIV infections among African-American women was 14.7 times that of white women. Similarly, while 20% of white teen-aged girls have a sexually transmitted infection, nearly 50% of African-American teen-aged girls have an STI. (HIV Law Project)
** HIV/AIDS Awareness Days