Frightening, isn”t it, that hundreds of thousands of Americans are HIV positive and don’t know it? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 180,000 to 280,000 people are totally unaware that they have HIV/AIDS.
“The figures ought to knock your socks off,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, continuing her crusade to reduce the incidence of the preventable virus among blacks, who now represent 50 percent of the estimated 1million HIV/AIDS cases nationwide.
That number of folks walking around without this knowledge ought to send you to the nearest HIV testing site, similar to the one set up at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church this week by Mrs. Norton and a group of D.C. ministers during National HIV Testing Day.
“If people see a man of the cloth getting tested, then why not them?” said Mrs. Norton, who hopes to remove the stigma of getting tested for the disease.
Just in case you haven”t heard it before, one of the highest rates of new cases in the country is right here in the nation”s capital. And the rate of infection among teens is even double that of adults.
That growing epidemic, especially among black teens, is why local leaders, including Mrs. Norton and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, participated in events to encourage more people beyond the traditionally targeted groups to get tested for the life-altering virus.
“This disease is spreading like wildfire in our communities and gives us pause,” Mrs. Norton said. She was attempting to counter the mistaken myth that HIV/AIDS is solely a homosexual man”s disease. “What are we going to call it now, a black disease? It doesn”t care about race, and it has landed and planted itself in our community.”
However, Mrs. Norton offered an important caution: “This disease is preventable but not if we keep hiding from it.”
National HIV Testing Day originated a decade ago with the Silver Spring-based National Association of People With AIDS. The organization wants people to get tested as a matter of routine medical care. More testing leads to more early detections, and that leads to more early treatments and a lower likelihood of spreading the disease.
Mrs. Norton pointed out that the District was a leader in promoting universal testing, which the CDC now recommends.
On the testing day, Mr. Fenty also announced a three-year initiative to increase by 25 percent the number of teens and young people who know their status, using prevention and education programs in community groups and schools.
“There is no way to defeat this sexually transmitted disease without personal responsibility,” Mrs. Norton said, adding that “it is being carried by average African-Americans.”
Testing is important but so is prevention, said Brenda Rhodes Miller, executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which is helping with the city”s efforts to distribute 10,000 condoms.
Her message to teens is that “prevention means don”t have sex, but if you do, protect yourself by using condoms carefully and consistently.” Mrs. Norton“s similar mantra is, “You can stamp it out with personal responsibility by having safe sex, knowing your partner and getting tested.”
The two primary ways HIV/AIDS is transmitted is through intraveneous drug use and unprotected sex, especially with men sleeping secretly with other men, she said.