Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Still Fighting

Dec 02, 2011

By Janaye Ingram

December 2, 2011

In 1994, I remember watching “The Real World: San Francisco” on MTV. Since the first season of the show, it had been a favorite of mine and I consumed it with great voracity. To this day, I can rattle off at least the first five seasons – each one with specific scenes and characters that stood out to me and for different reasons. But one of the people who continues to stand out to me is Pedro Zamora. Pedro was a Cuban immigrant who was living with AIDS and for me it was the first time that I was able to see into the life of someone who had the disease. Pedro taught me a lot – not just about the disease, but also about how uneducated and ignorant people were. Followed constantly by cameras, he spoke about the disease at forums and events in San Francisco. But some of the most memorable moments were when he was educating his roommates about the disease, and ultimately educating me. He was a television personality, but he was a friend in my head and when he died in late 1994, it was a personal loss. I felt I had grown to know him and was saddened, but his presence on television was the first real connection I had to someone who had the disease and served to end whatever personal misconceptions I had.

In the thirty years since the disease was identified, we have learned a lot about what the disease is, how it is transmitted, who it can affect, prevention methods and treatment options. And yet, over the last twenty years AIDS cases have more than doubled worldwide and while the rates have decreased internationally in the past few years, the rate has remained consistent in the US. And just this week, a story was covered by the media that was a throwback to those days in the 1980’s and early 90’s when people were scared to even be around someone with HIV/AIDS. A 13-year old student who applied for admission to a prestigious Pennsylvania school for low-income and socially-disadvantaged students was denied admittance because he is HIV positive. Despite the fact that he is an honor-roll student who is otherwise qualified to go to the school, he has been discriminated against because of his status. While he is planning to pursue legal action, it shows that while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go in the education about the disease and equal treatment of people living with the disease.

Approximately 1.2 million Americans are HIV positive, and in the black community HIV/AIDS incidences are the highest. In 2010, blacks accounted for 46% of the people living with HIV, but only represented 13% of the population. When you visit the CDC website, they clearly note, “by race, African Americans face the most severe HIV burden.” Specifically, black men who sleep with men are at the greatest risk followed by black women. Latinos are also greatly affected by the disease with the ethnic group dying faster than other groups. The CDC shows

that overall of the 1.2 million people who are infected, only 28% of infected people are getting effective treatment and they blame complacency as the reason why. Because we are no longer in crisis mode and in the US “the sense of crisis has waned” people don’t feel the sense of urgency to get tested. I would go one step further and say because there is still a stigma about having the disease, people are still somewhat afraid to get tested. Some activists within the Latino community feel that there is fear of getting tested because of immigration concerns among Latinos. But treatment is 96% effective in reducing transmission – one of the most effective prevention methods outside of abstinence. If more people would get tested, they could begin treatment and reduce the spread.

December 1st is World AIDS Day, a day that shines a light on the fight against HIV/AIDS and serves as a way to celebrate those who are in the fight and remember those who have lost the fight. To celebrate this year, President Obama came together with former Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush, celebrities and others at George Washington University to redirect $50 million to HIV prevention and treatment spending in the US. He also increased the US goal of supporting people in the countries hardest hit by the disease from 4 million to 6 million. In 2010, the President rolled out the National HIV/AIDS Strategy which is focused on reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. While he has been criticized by some in the AIDS activism community, the commitment of funds and the goal of increasing the support to other countries, President Obama has shown that he is dedicated to eradicating AIDS. Additionally, the administration had a webchat and conference call with community leaders and AIDS activists yesterday as a way to get on-the-ground feedback. We have come a long way in understanding the disease, but especially within the African American and Latino communities, we need to focus on how to remove the stigma as well as educate, prevent and treat this disease that is so rampant within our communities. Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we’re still fighting until we get an AIDS free generation.