To Be Young, HIV+ and Black
5 months ago
As Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day, examining how we can fight the epidemic claiming our youth.
His is an attitude that can go a long way toward addressing the issues that lie behind the statistics. It will take both personal and community responsibility to lower infection rates. The first step is to educate yourself on the disease and its transmission. Then get tested. The CDC recommends routine screening, and testing any time you get tested for other sexually transmitted infections; many sites offer free, confidential testing. Those at higher risk, including MSM and anyone having sex with more than one person (or whose partner is not monogamous) should be tested annually. If you are positive, seek immediate care—when you have your viral load under control, it’s better for the entire community, because it can reduce the chances of transmission.
Then take responsibility for at least one young person. Whether it’s your child, little brother, niece or mentee. Have the hard conversation about his or her risk for this disease. Share the numbers, answer any questions about having safer sex, encourage him or her to get tested, and support him or her if help is needed.
Then look to the greater community. On the policy side, the NBLCA is advocating for the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act, which U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) plan to reintroduce in January. If passed, the legislation could go a long way toward improving the situation. It would authorize the Office of Minority Health of the Department of Health and Human Services to make grants to public health agencies and faith-based organizations with the specific purpose of providing HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, treatment and care for African Americans; provide services to at-risk and HIV+ black youth, particularly those who are homeless or in detention centers or foster care; and require the CDC to dedicate more resources to risk-prevention education for black youth, women and MSM. Tell your members of Congress that you support this act.
“Your voice can and will make a difference in how policies and funds affect your community. As a former elected official, I cannot stress the importance of this enough!” Fields says.
NBLCA is also holding community town hall meetings around the country to develop national and local strategies to address the health disparities surrounding black infection rates. Attend one in your neighborhood.
Advocates for Youth is pushing the federal government to make April 10 National Youth HIV & Awareness Day; the hope is to call more attention (and resources) to how this epidemic is affecting our youth. Sign the petition to ask President Barack Obama, Congress and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make it so.
In the end, like so many of the issues that loom large in the black community, this epidemic comes down to taking personal responsibility.
Perhaps Brown says it best: “You don’t have to be a doctor or public health official to make a difference. As a community, we have a responsibility to our young people. If every adult committed themselves to ensuring young people’s right to lead healthy lives and worked to promote their overall well being, we would see a drastic decrease in negative sexual health outcomes.”