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Action Needed: Saving Ourselves from HIV/AIDS By Cassiette West-Williams

The first two weekends in the month of March are for the National Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, according to many Black churches. Free testing is available for those seeking accuracy and safety from the stigma of humiliation from being tested for HIV/AIDS. The Balm in Gilead, Inc. is a private and government organization that leads the charge for churches and other groups to advocate on health issues that impact the Black community.

In 2016, African Americans received 24,788 new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS, which was three times the amount to white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a leading think and research tank in America. Starting in January 2018, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began a HIV study among pregnant women, as more than 1.5 million women, who are HIV positive internationally, give birth every day. Of the 37 million people living with HIV/AIDS, around 13 percent are unaware that they have this disease.

To counter these alarming statistics, some organizations are taking a bigger step to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in their neighborhoods, cities and states.

HIV is known as human immunodeficiency virus and enters the immune system. AIDS is when one’s immune system causes what is known as opportunistic infections, according to the CDC. When one does not get tested or receive treatment, they usually have less than three years to live. One can contract the virus through sexual activity, unclean needles and rug usage or through breast-feeding via breast milk. Clinics are where some patients are tested, while many others only have limited options to take the test at all.

A middle-aged woman, who recently died from HIV/AIDS, kept going to work to provide for her four children and her mother. She was married, faithful and very much in love with her husband of 26 years. As people whispered and cried at the funeral, the news spread about her husband being on the “down low”, so she died due to his unhealthy lifestyle. The downlow is a term used to describe men who live a double life, when they put forth a heterosexual public image. Unfortunately, this incident is becoming more familiar in African American households, said a HIV patient, who did not want to be identified for this article.

We are not getting tested in the Black community, due to the negative stigma attached to AIDS,” he said. “We are killing ourselves by remaining ignorant about our status. Where is the urgency to learn this information and take action?” he said.

Some working women are notorious for skipping medical appointments, to pay for family expenses and bills that are due. By the time this lady learned of her HIV/AIDS status (of which, she did not know that she had one), it was too late, and she was dying.

There are no drugs to cure HIV/AIDS, but an early detection allows people to live a longer life, often 20 years or more, according to the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC). Some HIV positive people take the drug, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which is a pill taken daily and it is supposed to prevent passing the infection by 99%, but the number of people using the drug has not been where it should be in this country.

While HIV/AIDS cases have decreased for white males, it is on the upswing for Black women in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 262, 154 heterosexual females are HIV positive, followed by 227,758 heterosexual males and in third place are men who have sex with men at 159,560.

Millions of people have watched the movie, Black Panther, which has broken box office numbers. At some theaters, voter’s registration booths were set-up, meeting movie goers at the door. This would have been a perfect time to test people in the community, said the HIV patient. “We have got to stop waiting on people coming to us…We need action now. We must come to them!” he said. “Usually after movies, some people have drinks and engage in risky behavior. Knowing your status can make some think before they act,” he said.