July is National HIV Awareness Month: In Memory of Mike
1.2 million Americans live with HIV in the US and, every year, 50,000 more are infected. HIV remains a leading cause of death in some communities according to the Centers for Disease and Control. Yet, for all this, one in five Americans who lives with HIV does not realize it.
The entire month of July has been named the first†National HIV Awareness Month (NHAM). As Dawn Averitt Bridge, the founder of NHAM and also the founder and chair of the board of The Well Project, says about the need to “re-ignite” the national discourse about the HIV/AIDS epidemic:
Americans have come to view HIV as a terrible problem for the developing world but forget that it also continues to attack our families, friends and neighbors in every pocket of this country. National HIV Awareness Month represents our hope that the U.S. will become a nation where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person will have access to life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.Ē
The NHAM site provides some eye-opening statistics about the global HIV/AIDS pandemic:
In the decades since it was first identified, HIV has exploded into a health crisis for a number of U.S. communities, and barriers to basic health care exacerbate the problem. African Americans represent approximately 14 percent of the total U.S. population but account for nearly half of all new HIV infections, and HIV is the third-leading cause of death for African Americans aged 35-44. HIV is the fourth-leading cause of death for Latina women of the same age group. Men who have sex with men are still the most vulnerable group, making up only 2 percent of the U.S. population but accounting for 61 percent of all new HIV infections.
I still remember how, in the 1980s, AIDS was spoken about in wary, hushed tones, if at all. The AIDS Memorial Quilt was a huge deal, widely publicized, and wearing a red ribbon was a political statement.
I remember how very thin Mike, my husband’s dear friend, an artist, became in the years after learning he was HIV-positive. I remember the bag of medications he brought when he visited us at the beach on the Jersey Shore. I’ll always remember Mike, recalling his own experiences raising his two children, frowning at Jim and me because we talked about our then toddler son Charlie, newly diagnosed with autism, in the third person in his presence. I remember Mike putting Charlie’s stuffed Barney toy on his head as a hat and giving Charlie piggy back rides.
I remember Mike calling Jim in desperation about the pain, like having his skin burn off, from the experimental medications he was taking.
Mike died in January of 2004. We are lucky to have two of his paintings and think about him every single day.
Now, with December dubbed AIDS Awareness Day, all the kids, the teachers and many of their parents in our town’s schools wear red ribbons. As Frank Oldham Jr., president and chief executive officer of the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), says,
A lot has changed over the last 30 years; HIV can now be a virus we live with, not one we have to die with. But that isnít enough. We need to significantly expand education and access to affordable care in our communities so that all Americans have the tools necessary to make well-informed choices that can help prevent the transmission of HIV, including getting tested regularly and knowing their HIV status.
There is plenty of awareness about AIDS and HIV. But how much understanding? Do the kids know that people in their community; that a classmate, could be HIV-positive? Or how important it is to get tested and why there should be no stigma for doing so?
NHAM seeks to rally the general public as well as the private sector, federal agencies and community organizations, to “reach the broad swath of Americans who remain untouched by current HIV education effort.” Significantly, the International AIDS Conference will take place in the US for the first time in more than 20 years this month. In addition, July 2012 is the second anniversary of the release of the United Statesí first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy by President Barack Obama.
Phill Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Black AIDS Institute, emphasizes that “HIV is almost entirely preventable and we have a moral obligation to stop it in our communities.”
In memory of Mike and of so many others, please spread the word about †National HIV Awareness Month, to help address the HIV/AIDS crisis in the US and, ultimately, to work to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US and everywhere.
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Image courtesy of http://www.nationalhivawarenessmonth.org