Author: Bethelehem Haile, Guest Blogger
As we usher in Black History Month and celebrate both well and little-known figures that advanced the civil rights movement, it is also important to highlight challenges that continue to affect the black community disproportionately, such as HIV. With the reduction of new HIV infections by two-thirds, attention to the subject has waned since the epidemic’s height in the 1980s. However, the African American community has continued to see high HIV-positive rates and has renewed efforts to combat transmission. In 1999, a grassroots awareness effort, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was organized to promote HIV and AIDS prevention and care. Now in its 20th year, the February 7th commemoration includes various organizations, clinics, and communities that lead awareness and engagement.
According to the CDC, as of 2017, “African Americans accounted for 43% of HIV diagnoses.” This year’s Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day theme, Together for Love: Stop HIV Stigma, will highlight the powerful role stigma plays in barriers to care. While the stigma attached to HIV leads to negative attitudes and beliefs about those living with it, the prejudice and discrimination that follow, from healthcare professionals to society at large, have adverse effects. In the African American community, stigma is often cited as the reason that many do for not seek care, which leads to health outcome disparities. At an individual level, combating stigma begins with language. Often, the terms we use to discuss people living with HIV can be detrimental and contribute to the misinformation. As such, this guide, can be a first step in unlearning previously held beliefs and encouraging an open dialogue with family and friends to ensure testing and adherence to treatment are normalized.
LSS/NCA’s Youth Development & Wellness program supports youth and families in DC and Baltimore living with the effects of HIV Stigma. The program provides wellness workshops, care navigation, empowerment and encouragement to adhere to treatment, as well as positive peer-mentoring opportunities and weekend retreats. To support this program for local residents, please sponsor a youth on our website.