Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day. While there has been enormous progress in treatment for people living with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, there are still enormous obstacles to overcome before this is no longer a public health crisis.
More than 1 million people — moms, dads, children, aunt, uncles, friends — still die every year of AIDS, and 37 million people are living with HIV. Every day, about 5,600 people contract HIV, which is about 230 an hour (www.aids2016.org).
Though there are many ways for people who are living with HIV to live full and healthy lives, there are still too many obstacles to people getting educated, getting tested, getting treatment and getting over stigma.
If this were the flu — bird or otherwise — or Ebola, or any number of other viruses, no one would have stood for the annual death rate to be this high. Due to the stigma of this being a sexually transmitted infection, it has become a death sentence when it doesn’t have to be.
Every day, 600 babies are born with HIV, some of those locally. Recently, a colleague of mine received a letter from a parent concerned asking how to let their adopted HIV-positive 10-year-old know that there was going to be education about HIV in school in our region.
What will the school say? Will they realize there is at least one HIV-positive student in the classroom when they talk about it?
“How should I talk to my child about this?” the parent wondered.
We need to educate our children and youth about the realities of HIV in a sensitive manner, without stigmatizing those who have contracted this virus.To do that, we need to keep having conversations about HIV, realize we all know someone living with this (even if we don’t know we know), and get rid of the stigma surrounding the virus.
We can also do more to make it cool to get tested when folks become sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 160,000 people in the United States are living with HIV but have not yet been diagnosed (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-supplemental-report-vol-21-4.pdf). Finding ways to make testing something sexually active people routinely do will go a long way toward more people knowing their status and being able to get treated and prevent transmission to others.
More funding is needed to increase access to the many medications and treatments that can help people with HIV live full and active lives — and keep their partners and spouses healthy. Yet, access is an obstacle to these treatments for many people without insurance, with limited insurance or who live in poverty here and around the world.
“What can I possibly do?” you may ask.
Consider shopping for the iPhone users in your life. Apple has several products that help fund counseling, testing and medicine that prevents the transmission of HIV to unborn children. Check it out here: http://www.apple.com/product-red/
Maybe you’re a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis fan. Did you know Ryan’s mother, Julie, is a 30-year survivor of HIV? Check out www.3030project.org, the partnership the Lewis family has developed with Construction for Change to provide health care world-wide and get more folks to be treated for HIV.
If neither of those appeal to you, head on over to TheBody.com to find a host of regional organizations for women, people of color, gay men and others living with HIV.
Whatever speaks to you, take a moment and make a difference, to help end the spread of HIV and AIDS — in Federal Way and around the world.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of two books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. Amy specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.