December 1, 2008

Vigilance is Our Only Weapon

Today is World AIDS Day. You wouldn't know it because few news sources have covered much about it. On CNN you have to go to the health section, no links are provided on the home page, and even then it's not the top story- eating during the holidays is the top health story. I understand that eating right during the holidays is something more people can relate to than living with AIDS (I truly hope that's the case) but AIDS is still an incredibly important issue. It's still thriving in our world. If AIDS can suffer anything at all, it would be apathy. And AIDS has a raging case of apathy.

It is a misconception that HIV infection rates are on the decline. New cases of HIV infection are actually on the rise. That's because populations think AIDS is now curable or still only for gay men or rare. It's none of those things. AIDS is still here, it's still infecting people, and it's still a very real threat. Superstitions, fear, poor education, and hate are all enabling AIDS to thrive. Some tribes in Africa think if you are HIV positive that you can cure yourself by having unprotected sex with a virgin. Young people across the world think you can't get AIDS through oral sex. Certain religions think that if you are HIV positive that you have somehow earned God's wrath and deserve it. All of these beliefs are frightening but they exist. And the only way we can change these people's minds and dispel rumors like those is by education.

It is imperative that HIV education is included in our school's health classes and throughout our prisons. Prisoners and young people are the two groups that are the bulk of new HIV cases in America. At least half of new HIV infections in America are in people under 25. (AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25 to 34. source) That students and inmates understand how it is contracted, how you can prevent infection, and where to go to get tested is necessary to stopping the growth of this terrible illness. Abstinence only education is a great disservice to our youth. They deserve better from us.

When I was thirteen I was watching the movie about the beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic And the Band Played On. My mother noticed I was watching it and asked me what I thought of it. I told her I found it very informative and a pretty good movie, that I like it a lot. Then she pulled me aside and told me my uncle had contracted HIV. I admit I was angry because I knew my uncle contracted it from irresponsible behavior. It broke my heart. But I never, ever, stopped loving my uncle or feared touching my uncle or thought he was evil incarnate. He's still my uncle.

My uncle has been living with HIV for close to fifteen years now. He's proven HIV isn't a death sentence but it's a challenge. A challenge that requires great bravery. He risks facing ignorance and intolerance on a daily basis. It doesn't have to be that way. So for World AIDS Day, I ask that you go out and try to find out something about AIDS that you didn't know. Or find a way to help the AIDS community. Or let someone know you're thinking of him today.

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