Two VERY important anniversaries will be taking place next week, as the month of December begins: the (big) 20th commemoration of World AIDS Day and the 5th annual African World AIDS Day event.
In 1988, the World Health Organization and the U.N. General Assembly first declared December 1 as “World AIDS Day.” So, 20 years later, on 12-01-2008, will be a day of rememberence; we will be reminded that we are still living amidst a global epidemic. An epidemic that seems to perpetually be hitting the African continent the worst.
Many of us Minneafricans are distant from the harsh realities of AIDS back home, but the virus lives among us here in our new homeland. It is spreading within our community and cultural groups. It is a fact that some African immigrants have come here with HIV, while some have become infected for the first time here in America. Many of those who are infected are infecting other Africans from their own countries as well as other countries. Meanwhile, some are being infected by or infecting non-Africans here in Minnesota or in other parts of the U.S. According to the MN Department of Health (MDH), [minne]Africans represent less than 1% of the state population, but accounted for 15% of the new HIV cases by the end of 2007. Now, please remember that the statistics are just based on reported cases. There are more cases out there because everyone that is infected is not getting TESTED.
The alarming growth in the HIV infection rate among minneAfricans brought African organizations, MDH, and other agencies together to put on an annual World AIDS Day event targeting the African population in MN. Beginning in 2004, the African World AIDS Day (AWAD) event has taken place each December to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, encourage testing, reduce stigma and discrimination by showing compassion for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and connect those already infected to existing services. The 2008 African World AIDS Day will be held on Dec. 6th at South High School in South Minneapolis. The event is free and open to the public; it includes free lunch, free and confidential testing, free entertainment, and free information and resources. Please bring all the minneAfricans you know!
MY, YOURS, OUR EPIDEMIC-It is estimated that 33 million people are living with HIV (the virus that infects) or AIDS (the disease caused by HIV) around the world. More importantly, nearly 7,500 new infections are occurring each day. STOP! Just think about that. It sounds bad, but it doesn’t have to be.
Remember a few facts about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the disease. This disease, AIDS, is completely preventable, because we know how to prevent it from spreading. How? Well, we know that the virus is transmitted through blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk OF AN INFECTED PERSON. Therefore, prevention begins with everyone knowing what HIV/AIDS is and how HIV is transmitted, then everyone needs to be medically tested to know their status (ie. having the virus or not). I say everyone should be tested, but technically, it should just be those who are or have been at risk of being infected with HIV. At risk?! This means that at least one of the following risky activities has occurred:
- Exposure of HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluid into open wounds or sores.
- Consumption of HIV-infected breastmilk (by anyone), or transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy or during childbirth.
- Being deeply punctured by or sharing of surgical instruments, needles, or syringes that is contaminated by HIV.
- AND THE MOST COMMON RISKY ACTIVITY THAT SPREADS HIV: having unprotected vaginal, anal, and/or oral sex with someone who is infected with HIV, the virus.
As they say, “prevention is better than a cure”. Knowing your status by getting tested is great, but the best strategy is to ALWAYS avoid the risks. This means being very careful, because the fact is you can NEVER always be sure what the status of others are, just your own status. Here are some Twin Cities-based, culturally-specific organizations that provide testing and other resources: African Health Action, SAYFESM, Crown Medical Center, and African-American AIDS Taskforce. One other thing to remember is that even though HIV infection is to be avoided, getting it is not a death sentence. Many HIV positive people have been living longer than expected, thanks to medication developed in recent years. It’s not a easy life, but AIDS is increasingly being considered just another chronic disease like Cancer or Diabetes. Like those diseases, AIDS requires consistent treatment/drug therapy and a disciplined, healthy lifestyle to be able to live with it.
Tune into FM 89.9, KMOJ African Roots Connection tomorrow morning at 9am to hear “moi” talk more about AWAD and HIV prevention resources. Also, try to make it to at least one of the many World AIDS Day-related events this December. MDH has the grand calender of events in the Twin Cities metro area and in Greater Minnesota. Check back later this weekend to see Minneafrica’s list of AIDS awareness events!