After more than thirty years of this pandemic, there still no cure or vaccine in the near horizon. Thousands of people infected with HIV or with a diagnosis of AIDS continue to die as a result of this devastating immune-destroying virus. Our current medical advances are effective for some individuals infected by HIV, but the stigma associated with the infection continues to run unrestrained in all levels of our society. The suffering of those infected with AIDS continues to be a daily reality for those HIV-infected individuals with additional psychosocial problems on top of their HIV infection. Many HIV surviving individuals and families continue to need help with food, transportation, housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health, nursing case management, medication education, etc. Those members of our community at high risk of becoming infected need to receive effective HIV-prevention interventions to ensure they remain HIV-negative.
Minority AIDS Project (MAP) originated in 1985 and is the first community based HIV/AIDS organization established and managed by people of color in the United States. MAP is a California nonprofit organization that provides free of charge educational and other HIV/AIDS related support services to eligible individuals without regard to age, gender, ethnicity, culture, language or other circumstances. MAP’s services and educational programs are community-wide and available to all people. However, from the beginning, the primary focus of our services and outreach has been the African-American and Latino communities in Central and South Central Los Angeles.
Minority AIDS Project’s goal is to ensure community based access to respectful and efficient health promotion and disease prevention services through the provision of critical support that works to bridge the gap of services for our multi-ethnic clients. Minority AIDS Project it dedicated to “reducing suffering and deaths due to HIV Infection and AIDS Disease in African American and Latino communities by making HIV/AIDS education and related health services available and accessible.” Until the doors opened at MAP, these communities had little or no real access to preventive education and essential health care services. .
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
There are many complex social and environmental factors that fuel the epidemic in African American communities. Especially concerning is poverty and the high level of unemployment within black communities during this current economic crisis. There are other factors associated with poverty that directly and indirectly increase the risk for HIV infection and affect the health of people living with HIV, including limited access to quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education. Additionally, higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in black communities can significantly increase the chance of contracting HIV infection. Moreover, stigma and homophobia – far too prevalent in every community – continue to prevent many African Americans from seeking HIV testing External Web Site Icon., prevention and treatment.
Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no symptoms at all. People living with HIV may appear and feel healthy for several years. However, even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. All people with HIV should be seen on a regular basis by a health care provider experienced with treating HIV infection. Many people with HIV, including those who feel healthy, can benefit greatly from current medications used to treat HIV infection. These medications can limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV. Untreated early HIV infection is also associated with many diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. Support services are also available to many people with HIV. These services can help people cope with their diagnosis, reduce risk behavior, and find needed services.
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer - even decades - with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s.
No one should become complacent about HIV and AIDS. While current medications can dramatically improve the health of people living with HIV and slow progression from HIV infection to AIDS, existing treatments need to be taken daily for the rest of a person’s life, need to be carefully monitored, and come with costs and potential side effects. At this time, there is no cure for HIV infection. Despite major advances in diagnosing and treating HIV infection, in 2007, 35,962 cases of AIDS were diagnosed and 14,110 deaths among people living with HIV were reported in the United States.
What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. CDC estimates that about 56,000 people in the United States contracted HIV in 2006.
There are two types of HIV, HIV-1 and HIV-2. In the United States, unless otherwise noted, the term “HIV” primarily refers to HIV-1.
Both types of HIV damage a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.
While these realities paint a bleak picture, there is another image that has been unfolding – one of hope. As I have travelled throughout the United States, I have seen hope in the eyes of those receiving prevention services funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I have met many leaders of community organizations, faith-based groups and national African American institutions who are bringing hope to black communities as they advocate for the prevention of HIV. And now their work is supported by the President of the United States. In July, 2010, President Obama launched the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which provides a first-ever blueprint for fighting the U.S. epidemic, with a particular focus on populations hardest hit, including African Americans.
I also see hope in the fact that HIV prevention is working. The number of new infections among African Americans is stable and has been for more than a decade – despite the growing number of people living with HIV who can potentially transmit the disease. Additionally, there are dramatic declines in new infections in several categories where African Americans are disproportionately represented, such as mother-to-child transmission and injection drug use.
Black communities are more mobilized than ever against HIV. Nearly 500 organizations are sponsoring or have sponsored National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day events External Web Site Icon.in the United States as well as in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. African American leaders from every walk of life – business, civil rights, entertainment, government and media – are speaking out and taking action at events across the nation, from health fairs and workshops to candlelight vigils and HIV testing events.
At CDC, HIV prevention in black communities remains one of our top priorities. Last year, more than half of our HIV prevention budget was invested to fight HIV among African Americans. Recently, CDC expanded a multi-million dollar testing initiative to reach more African Americans with HIV testing. And through CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, CDC seeks to harness the collective strength and reach of longstanding black community institutions to increase HIV-related awareness, knowledge, and action across the nation.
Everyone has a part to play in this fight against HIV as infection is completely preventable. On this NBHAAD, get the facts about HIV. Get tested. Speak out against homophobia and stigma. Everyone and every action counts.
Where did HIV come from?
Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world.
Because the most common ways HIV is transmitted is through anal or vaginal sex or sharing drug injection equipment with a person infected with HIV, it is important to take steps to reduce the risks associated with these. They include:
Know your HIV status. Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV at least once. If you are at increased risk for HIV, you should be tested for HIV at least once a year.
If you have HIV, you can get medical care, treatment, and supportive services to help you stay healthy and reduce your ability to transmit the virus to others.
If you are pregnant and find that you have HIV, treatments are available to reduce the chance that your baby will have HIV.