Addressing Perceptions, Misconceptions, and Taking Action
In high school, I volunteered for my local AIDS Project. My peers and I spoke at schools around the county—together, we educated teens about safe sex, harm reduction, and living HIV positive. We asked the students questions about how the disease is contracted, what type of person gets it, and how to prevent transmission. At the end of each presentation an HIV positive speaker would share his or her story, giving a human face to the disease.
Our goal for presentations was not just to educate – but also to make it personal for every student in the class and banish the thought, “That will never happen to me.” We all remember what it was like to feel invincible. And whether we’re talking about addiction, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, or disease, the best way for young people to make good decisions is to have knowledge.
The answers the students gave us about HIV/AIDS were not always correct, and they also weren’t surprising. Unless you grew up in media isolation, most of us think of a person with HIV only as a male drug user, or as being homosexual (think Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, for instance).
According to the CDC statistics, injection drug users actually represents less than 10% of new infections. And while MSM transmission (men who have sex with men) is still in the majority, women claim one in every 4 new infections – over 290,000 women in the US alone. Of that number, more than 80% contracted HIV through heterosexual sex.
Some alarming statistics we don’t often hear: African Americans represent approximately 14% of the US population, but account for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections. While men do account for most HIV/AIDS cases, research shows that women and African Americans face large gaps in access and care.
How can you help? Why should you care?
HIV/AIDS is the epidemic of our generation. We can prevent its spread through education and resources, and best treat those affected with enough research and funding (which will hopefully produce a cure in the near future). In all we do, we can respond to an HIV positive person with respect and care.
- Observe National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Hold an event, spread the word through social media, or create a charity registry to raise money.
- Lobby for the new Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The new law reduces the number of people who become infected with HIV through prevention education, increases access to care and optimizes health outcomes, and reduces HIV related health disparities.
- Donate to charities that support HIV/AIDS research, prevention, and treatment. Find a charity in your area or support nationally recognized nonprofits.
- Shop (RED).With an extensive catalogue from iPods to shoes to jewelry, (RED) product proceeds go toward eliminating AIDS by 2015 . . . for an AIDS Free Generation.
If I helped to inspire even one person to use protection through my presentations or spread the word through this blog, then I’ve made a difference. How will you?
Want to hear more about the latest progress? Check out this 2011 World Aids Day video:
– Michelle Koffler, Marketing Coordinator