February 7th marks the 16th National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an annual day that brings awareness around the national HIV epidemic. Despite the disease's first appearance being nearly 30 years ago, HIV/AIDS remains a critical health issue for the black community; the CDC puts the rate of new HIV infection in African Americans at eight times higher than that of whites.
More than three decades after the height of the epidemic, a stigma still unfortunately exists around HIV and AIDS, leading to confusion and misinformation. Even more importantly, there are still major barriers to testing, care and treatment for many in our community, as well as other communities disproportionately impacted across the U.S.
These facts make it more critical than ever to utilize this day to mobilize around the mission to raise awareness around HIV and AIDS, for those unaware of their HIV status to get tested, and make sure those who test positive are able to receive care.
The unfortunate truth is that there are still several common misconceptions around HIV, particularly in the black community. With new advancements in treatment, young people are not seeing their family and friends die as quickly from the disease, leading it to be viewed as "no big deal". Celebrities like Magic Johnson have proven that it's possible to live a long, healthy life with the disease. While this is true, it's critical that individuals who are positive, find out early in their infection.
Cause for Concern
The heart of America's HIV epidemic is in the South, where resources are most limited and screening is not a priority. Organizations see that they can't get people into the proper treatment if they test positive, leading to a mindset of, "Why even test?"
This is the absolute worst way to deal with this crisis. The reality is that if people know their status, they can take better care of themselves and prevent further spread of the disease. Studies have shown that when people know they are positive for HIV, they will take extra precautions to prevent transmissions.
What Can Be Done?
There are many issues impacting our community, but HIV needs to remain a top priority. This disease impacts so many and no one is immune -- whether rich, poor, athlete, movie star or politician, this disease impacts us all. Therefore, we must address it together. We need to get black churches more involved and raise money in a coordinated way to pick up some of the slack, as the government has shifted away from the epidemic. We need more advocacy from our leaders in the community, as well as from celebrities and government officials.
The only way that we can end the existence of HIV is to test our way out. Luckily, there are more options out there than ever before. You can go to a clinic, your doctor, or even test from the comfort of your own home. A test called OraQuick is available at all major drug stores and online, and provides results in only twenty minutes using a simple oral fluid sample.
Test in private by yourself. Test with your partner. Just get tested. By working together, we can help raise awareness, prevent further transmissions, and make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past.