Yvonne Washington-Turay -- World News Trust
Nov. 28, 2006 -- Each year on Dec. 1, the WORLD commemorates the inception of the AIDS pandemic. Some will hold candlelight vigils. Others will hold walkathons. Churches may hold special services while the others may do nothing. Yes, the President as well as many other notable dignitaries and celebrities will give their usual speeches. We may even hear from people who are living with HIV whether it is here on elsewhere in the world. What is the purpose of these rituals? Each year the pandemic worsens with more than 40 million individuals worldwide infected with this virus, and millions more affected. These affected persons are the mother, sisters, grandmothers, fathers, brothers, aunts, uncles and other family member who are left to care for those afflicted individuals with little to no support from the community. This holds true especially in Africa where more than 27 million individuals are living with this HIV.
Sub-Saharan Africa in all its riches and natural resources does not have adequate access to the life saving medications. They also do not have sufficient the medical personnel to provide the technological, educational, social and cultural remedies that would assist in combating this social ill. On a recent trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa, while providing HIV/AIDS education in the City of Freetown at one of the local Hair Schools, I was amazed at how many of the approximately 40-50 young women whom I was addressing did not know about, nor had they ever seen, a female condom. I was told by many of the young women that they often frequent the night clubs in the town and exchange sex for money. Many of them also reported they did not use condoms. One of the owners of the school reported they had given the girls extensive training on how to avoid passing the infection by use of barbicides but there had been little formal education about the relationship between sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and even less education on condom use and efficacy.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands where I work full time as the only Nurse Practitioner employed full time in a Ryan White Title II clinic, I provide lots of education to professionals as well as the general public. Our outreach workers also go to schools, churches and seminars providing education as well as condom demonstration. We stress prevention by encouraging people to abstain or use condoms to decrease their chances of acquiring a primary HIV infection. Yet, our infection rate continues to rise. In the Islands we continue to hear comments such as "condoms don't feel right," "I don't need to use condoms because I am married," and many others.
What is the real answer to averting this pandemic? Primary HIV infection is 100% preventable, yet here in the United States, with all of our resources, money, technology and more we can not get people to change their behaviors to prevent the spread of this disease. With more than 1 million infections diagnosed in the United States, our infected population continues to grow. The disease is spreading rampantly; more than 17,000 new infections in 2004 (CDC 2005). African Americans as a whole accounted for about 50 percent of all new HIV infections in 2004; approximately 20,000.
After 25 years there are still many answers to be found as it relates to decreasing the incidence of the HIV pandemic. Our successes as national of people include better medicines, increased ability to detect the virus at earlier stages thereby getting people into treatment sooner and many more global partnerships being formed to assist the developing world with greater resources to combat this pandemic. We still have a long way to go. We must focus on decreasing the Health care disparities in these areas that exist within our United States as well as abroad. African Americans are still the most likely individuals to die of HIV as are Africans. People of color are around the world disproportionately impacted. On this World AIDS Day 2006 let's focus on creating more opportunities for everyone around the world who is infected and affected by the AIDS pandemic to have equal opportunities to survive this malady.