Yesterday (February 7) was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day dedicated to continuing to fight to a disease that is disproportionally affecting the African-American community. According to Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. while African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, we account for almost half of new infection cases.
When the HIV/AIDS virus came to light in the 1980’s it seemed like a modern-day bubonic plague. The media showed gut-wrenching photos of those that contracted the disease. They were emaciated and covered with lesions -- it was clear that this was a death sentence. It was painful for the patient, the family members and those people the patient had sexual or intravenous contact with.
As the death count rose, so did fear and misinformation. It was thought that if you were diagnosed with AIDS, you were either a white gay male or a drug addict. People were scared to come in contact with an infected person because they thought a simple handshake could get a person sick. Fast forward to today, and the face of AIDS has changed. It’s no longer white gay men, but straight black women that are the largest casualties of the disease.
However, HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was 30 years ago. Thanks to a potent cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, those infected with the illness are living longer and healthier lives as evidenced by NBA great Magic Johnson. As a result, HIV/AIDS no longer has the stigma it used to... Or does it?
“People with AIDS still carry around the stigma of the disease,” says Dr. Fenton. “Often times, they have to forgo having romantic relationships or experience their relationship end because one person is positive while the other one is not. While the disease has definitely become manageable, it means taking dozens of pills every day for the rest of your life. It’s really sad because this is a totally preventable disease.”
In an effort to disseminate his message of awareness and prevention, Dr. Fenton will be releasing an opinion piece to address the state of HIV/AIDS in the black community. As we reflect on the lives lost and mourn the new cases of infection to what has become a silent epidemic, it’s important to take the steps to protect ourselves. BET wants to remind you to:
Get Educated – It’s important to know your enemy, in this case HIV/AIDS inside and out.
Get Tested – Today is the perfect day to get the test and know your status. It’s quick, easy and you’ll know the results in a matter of minutes in most cases.
Get Involved – Donate some time or money to your local community organizations working to assist the community in the fight against HIV/AIDS
Get Treatment – In the event you test positive for HIV/AIDS, it’s important that you receive the proper treatment immediately. People are living longer, healthier lives with the illness, but only with the proper medication.