After 30 years since the first reported HIV case, national statistics indicate that there are over a million people in the United States living with HIV/AIDS. Over two thirds of those persons do not know they are infected. Out of the reported 56,000 annual HIV infections in the United States, over 57% of the cases are among people of color.
A majority of those cases are in the South. At the end of June 2010, Georgia ranked number six in the nation in the number of reported HIV/AIDS cases. In Georgia, Savannah now has the second highest number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in the state outside the Atlanta metropolitan area (GA DCH, June 2010).
These numbers continue to rise in other rural areas of the state. In regard to other sexually transmitted diseases, Georgia now has one of the highest numbers of reported syphilis cases in the South. Yes, the disease has disproportionately affected minorities, especially our men. Although the health disparity has disproportionately affected certain pockets of people; the disease does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity disease.
You may ask what is HIV/AIDS? Am I at risk? Should I get tested? What can I do?
The virus that causes the syndrome AIDS is called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus is found in only four body fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. It is generally transmitted via unprotected sex and illicit drug use. The virus is only found in humans and cannot be spread via casual contact such as drinking behind someone living with HIV, toilet seats, mosquitoes, utensils, hand shakes, etc. Having HIV infection is not the same as having AIDS. HIV causes a spectrum of conditions and symptoms. AIDS is the most severe, lifethreatening form of HIV infection. Most people infected with the virus seem healthy, and many do not realize they have been infected. Knowing this, It behooves a person to seek confidential rapid HIV counseling, testing and referral services.
After one learns of his or her HIV status, the final results will either be positive for the presence of HIV antibodies or non-reactive (negative). If a person is HIV negative, I recommend a repeat test every six months. If a person is positive, it is part of our responsibility to ensure that the individual is referred and linked to ongoing medical, care, treatment and prevention intervention services. Early detection is the key to maintaining one’s health and preventing further transmission of a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Over the past ten years of doing HIV prevention, education and outreach work throughout the country, I often hear persons describe a person known to have HIV as a “carrier.” My perspective on the carrier comment is as follows. This person is more than likely living with HIV however, not exhibiting any early signs or symptoms of infection. Although a person living with HIV or AIDS may not exhibit signs or symptoms (asympto- matic), he or she is still able to transmit the virus to others during a risky encounter such as unprotected sex or sharing needles or syringes. I strongly urge personal responsible behavior.
The only way you can remain HIV negative and avert the chances of acquiring an STD or getting re-infected is through one of the following ways: abstinence, monogamous relationship with one partner or consistent and correct condom use.
What should you do? Learn the facts. You should also talk openly and candidly about HIV/AIDS and all other STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis with your family, friends, children, partner(s), and health care provider. If you feel you are at risk, get tested for all STDs at least once a year.
We know its what you do that puts you at risk for HIV infection rather than who are. We must confront the powerful emotions regarding sexuality, drug use, poverty, racism, sexism, shame, guilt and power and control issues and learn to deal with the world with our hearts, head and not fear.
The continued silence and secrecy of this public health crisis contributes to irresponsive, reckless and underground behavior. Remember, the virus does not care if you are Black, White, Asian, Latino, mixed or other, rich, poor, married, straight, gay, bisexual, asexual or trisexual; it only wants a home. Our children need us and now is the time to act rather than turn our heads the away to an epidemic that is clearly out of control in our communities. In closing, I admonish everyone to get tested. I especially urge everyone to contact their elected officials and advocate for more local, statewide and federal funding to support expanded HIV prevention, treatment (ADAP) and care services for residents in Savannah and throughout the Coastal Health District.
If you are interested in finding out more about our services, or if you wish to volunteer or make a tax deductible donation, please contact our office at 2111 Price Street or call 912-231-8727. We are desperately seeking collaboration and help from our local churches, fraternities, sororities, businesses, NAACP, Urban League, 100 Black Men of Savannah, and others to join us in this human rights movement.
This year we will have our annual ‘Men Who Make A Difference’ fundraiser banquet in August. I urge you to contact our office today and nominate your leader who is making a difference in your community. Our people perish for lack of knowledge. Will you help us educate health and wellness? For more information about me and MBH, please visit www.mybrothazhome.org.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. This article is for informational purposes only. For any questions concerning treatment or care, please consult your medical provider.