HIV and AIDS were once considered a gay, white male’s diseases, but times have changed.
Although blacks only make up about 12 percent of the United State’s population, they make up more than half of those newly infected with HIV.
To promote awareness of this epidemic that affects one in every 600 African Americans, the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day is celebrated on Feb. 7. On campus, the Black Student Alliance held an informational meeting and offered free testing.
Korey Scott, social relations junior and director of academic retention for the Black Student Alliance, encouraged his group to be part of this important event. “The Black Student Alliance’s purpose here at MSU has always been to promote unity and awareness within the black community to strengthen and uplift it,” Scott said. “We felt it essential to our cause to participate in the national mobilization effort to raise awareness and fight the disease.”
[rib] Awareness is only the beginning of the fight; education is the key to prevention. The only way to lower the number of blacks that get the disease is to go out and educate those who are not aware of what is going on and teach them how to protect themselves.
The first step is to absolve common myths and misconceptions.
For one, some people believe that just white people or just black people get AIDS, but really, AIDS does not discriminate against race. People of all ethnic backgrounds are infected all over the world.
Some people also believe that only gay men can get AIDS, but that is not true either. It is estimated that 58 percent of new infections are from heterosexual contact or intravenous drug use. Additionally, 64 percent of those infected are women, and of these women, over three-quarters have acquired the disease through unprotected sex with men; it is very rare for a woman to infect another woman.
Kaye McDuffie, a prevention specialist for the Lansing Area AIDS Network (LAAN) suggested ways students can help stop the spread of the disease through education. “For one they can make themselves more aware and pass it on to their peers,” McDuffie said. “Young people do not get involved because they do not know.”
She also explained that there are many organizations that are looking for young adults to volunteer. “Young people need to become educated and learn how to reduce your chances of becoming infected,” McDuffie said. “They can also become familiar with agencies in their area and become volunteers.”
McDuffie also stressed that education should start at a young age. Children should learn how to protect themselves so by the time they become sexually active, they will know how to be safe.
“If young adults become volunteers and work with young kids they can increase the comport level of these children where they will want to talk about it, but in order to do that we must increase our comfort levels to where we can have these conversations,” McDuffie said.
Because of this discomfort in having these conversations, society makes it hard for people with HIV and AIDS to get support. McDuffie said that people who are infected often do not seek help. “People who do not get the proper support sometimes feel like they do not deserve to live and that they are worthless but this is not true.” It is estimated that 225,000 people who do know they are infected are not being treated.
There are not a lot of programs available to help and support the black youth, black women, and blacks in general because not enough of them are making their selves available to help. “Until there are enough of them volunteering and putting themselves out there decisions will not get made based on their needs,” McDuffie said.
More education should lead to more people getting tested, which is another vital element in containing the disease. “We feel that one of the first steps needed to combat the disease and its devastating effects on our communities is to alert and urge people to get tested,” Scott said. “The testing day we set up will definitely help students realize that this is an issue many other students who participated are taking seriously and encourage them to further spread knowledge of HIV.”
It is important for everyone of any race to be tested, no matter how many sexual partners you have had. All it takes is one to infect you. The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely it can be kept under control without medication, and the less likely it will spread to others. Keep in mind, it is a felony to have unprotected sex with someone and not tell them that you are infected.
However, if you are tested and you find out that you have HIV or AIDS, while devastating, it is not the end of the world. It was reported that at the end of 2003, there was an estimated 406,000 people living with AIDS in the United States. There are medications to help lessen the effects of the disease, but they are expensive and have side effects of their own.
McDuffie said there are many things people can do to slow HIV down. “People can eat better, stop drug use, stop drinking and stop smoking,” she said. “In fact, nicotine helps speed up HIV faster than doing drugs. People can also reduce stress and avoid getting sick.”
But, although there is help, there is no cure.
Of course prevention is the best way to avoid all-together the harmful effects of the disease. And prevention means protection. You can never be positive that the man or woman you’re sleeping with isn’t infected, even if they look safe. For example, there are some black men who have unprotected sex with other men and then have unprotected sex with their wives, girlfriends or other women. They are called “brothers on the down low” or “homothugs.” This activity is just one of the reasons that HIV/AIDS is being spread so rapidly throughout the black community, making it extremely important to get tested, know your partner’s history and to use protection.
Sophomore Carrice Taylor attended the Black Student Alliance’s event and said it was very informative. “It gave me new perspectives of the black community,” Taylor said. “If there were ways for me to help, I would.”
There are ways to help. In addition to educating peers and children, McDuffie said students can do little things on campus and donate what they get or make to organizations like LAAN. For example, students can do food drives and donate non-perishable food to the drives. She also said they need toiletries that are not covered by food stamps like toilet tissue, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, etc. Clothes are also needed. Sororities and fraternities can also get together and hold events and donate the money to different organizations. There are also different events that are held during the year to help raise money like a bike ride where people participate and get people to sponsor them by giving them donations. There is also a walk held in September where students can also find out if there is a local family that has a family member that has HIV or AIDS and offer support to them.
There are no excuses on why not to protect yourself and others from HIV and AIDS. The diseases do not pick and choose who they want to infect; everyone is fair game whether you are black, white, hispanic, asian, any other nationality, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, male or female. As of December 2000, 774,467 AIDS cases had been reported in the United States and of those people, 640,000 were men, 134,441 were women and 8,908 were under the age of 12. It is estimated that between 850,000 and 950,000 people are HIV-positive in the United States alone. It is also estimated that of those people, between 180,000 and 280,000 do not know that they are infected.
You have the choice. Choose to take a test, choose not to share needles and choose to use protection.
If you have more questions about HIV/AIDS you can contact the Lansing Area AIDS Network at (517)394-3719. They do free AIDS testing at different sites in the East Lansing/Lansing Area. They also offer prevention services, counseling, training and family counseling. If you are not from the Lansing area you can go online to the Centers for Disease Control Web site at www.cdc.gov to find information and get the numbers to call and ask for more information.

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