Friday, February 11, 2011

[A Negro in Black America] AIDS in Black America (Pt. 1): The Awareness Gap

Did you know that February 7th was Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day? Funny. For some reason, I didn’t know about this day or had forgotten about it. Plus, I doubt that there are many in the African-American community that knows about this day either unless they are infected with the virus of course. It’s not heavily promoted like World AIDS Day, which is on December 1st, but it is one day that many people should take a moment to reflect on. Since we are no longer in the era where hospitals are filled with the skeletonized figures begging for death, the threat of this diseases is so minimized… almost as if it is on the same playing field as other chronic ailments like diabetes. Medications and images of people like Magic Johnson, who has been living with the virus for many years in the public eye, have giving to the illusion that everything will be okay with just a few pills a day. But let’s be real… New treatment doesn’t mean a solution since there is no money in a cure. Treatment is the ultimate cash cow now isn’t it? But I digress…

Over the last 10 plus years, HIV/AIDS in the Black community has sky rocketed, especially among Black woman, but that doesn’t seem to be headline news.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog (for those that followed me for a minute, it was during the Yahoo! 360 days, where social networking blogging was as simple as 1-2-3) concerning an ABC Primetime special which focused on the AIDS pandemic in the Black community. Thanks to Youtube (I posted the playlist onto my tumblr page (itsjustkenny!) for all those that would like to view the program for themselves), I watched the program once again and felt the same way I did back in 2006 when it first premiered. I remember sitting at my aunt’s house in New Jersey with a pen and a pad, taking down pages of notes of what I wanted to express, just to have people barely notice the blog until 2 years later when I reposted it to another social networking site.. The program itself wasn’t ground breaking or revealed anything that wasn’t already known. All it did was highlight five points on how the virus had effect the Black community.

The reasons were:
  1. 1.      The government’s ignorance and/or indifference on the toll this disease has done to the Black and Brown communities and the impact of celebrities who raise money for other countries HIV/AIDS relief programs instead places closer to home,
  2. 2.      The failure of the government to enact programs that have been proven to decrease the spread of the disease.
  3. 3.      The sexual habits of Black men and women.
  4. 4.      The “Down Low”, where men engage in homosexual acts but proclaim heterosexuality.
  5. 5.      The failure of Black leaders especially those in the highly held Black church, to take a stand concerning HIV/AIDS.

In this Blog I am going to discuss the first 2 of the 5 points. Since the cultural war of the 80’s, when the HIV/AIDS pandemic began, it was seen as only a White Gay Male disease. Many conservatives in congress during that time did not want government funds going to people who in their view were suffering from the effects of their anti-Christian lifestyle choice. In fact many did not want to even acknowledge the problem existed at all. There was a clear failure to see this as it was by President Reagan’s administration at least in the public eye. Silence created more damaged, because it allowed people to become influenced by ignorance, prejudice and misinformation which polarized the topic from progressing even further. While the stigma surrounding the HIV/AIDS may have changed throughout the years, in the Black community it remained the same. It was something that you did not discuss unless you had to and if there was some one that you knew with it then you had to not be around them out of fear. It was just a GAY WHITE DISEASE and the other ways that the virus was spread, like IV drug use, was not as focused on until it was too late.

When the war on drugs took hold in the African American community, pretty much moving a segment of the population from the street and into prisons, many were infected with the virus but did not know it. While I will go into the how prisons have helped in the stigma and spread of the disease at a later date, I will say this… Men who may have contracted the disease through IV drug use are put into an environment where condoms are prohibited but rape and relationships are known to happen, the once release will continue to partake in heterosexual relationships. This allows the virus and other disease to get quickly passed around. Both Bush administrations opposed providing money for programs like needle exchange, which provided clean needles to IV drug users (something that has been successful in other countries) instead of sharing needles with one another because they believed that programs like this would encourage drug use. As we all know, without the funding it could not get off the ground. The Clinton Administration took no action. While many thought he would support such a plan, he had no political capital to spend because of the scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Once again, the idea of funding something that could provide some kind of small solution was put on the backburner. The current Obama Administration has not taken a stand on this matter as well. Maybe because there are a whole host of problems going on with the world today, but with new medical technologies like stem cell research hope is on the horizon.

What the question that should be asked now is whether or not the government will follow suit and see provide the funding for something that is crippling the Black community. In a 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards, Gwen Ifill, asked both men about the government’s role in decreasing the newly infection rates among Black women. While Dick Cheney proclaimed ignorance about the infection rate and provided no real answer but vowed to “look into it” during his next administration, his democrat opponent John Edward did not do any better by talking about what’s going on with the AIDS effort in Africa and China. How that relates to African-Americans in the United States, I have no idea. Flash forward 4 years, during the 2008 presidential elections, in one of the Democrat debates which was moderated by Travis Smiley, every candidate gave impassionate statements about what they plan to do about AIDS in Black America if they were elected. The Republican candidates were never publicly asked or at least I cannot find a video at this moment of any of them talking about it. Besides the reauthorization in 2009 of the Ryan White Care Act by President Obama, there has been nothing really said on the matter concerning HIV/AIDS here in the states.

Aboard is a very different and complicated matter.

I used to hate seeing African-American urban and not so urban celebrities (i.e. Beyonce, P. Diddy, The Oprah, etc…) trot off to Africa to do a concert, hold a few press conferences about what they are doing in the AIDS relief front and be shown walking through a neighborhood with kids running around them. I thought it was asinine. I could not understand why it was so hard for them to do something here as well as Africa. What about a PSA or a foundation to benefit those living with the virus? What about a campaign that talks open and honestly about condoms usage or sexual relationships. Hold town hall meetings about how men and women should be honest about their sexual behavior and get tested together. Talk about how HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among Black women from the ages of 25-30. Hell, go on high schools, college campuses, rallies and parades and while popping bottles and just say protect yourself.

But the reality is… Things were really F-ed up there in Africa and it continues to be with sparks of success stories here and there. Like how the crack era took a whole generation of parents and children away from their families. The virus and a whole host of disease have done so over there. Generic drugs, proper medical facilities and qualified physicians, all the things that we take for granted here in the states, are sparse. More awareness is needed and the one (and ONLY) thing I used to praise former President Bush about was his handling of the AIDS crisis in Africa, by increasing the funding with The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan) which was a commitment of billions over five years. HOWEVER that is a double edge sword. If you look some African countries like Uganda, ultra conservatives American groups like “The Family” have successfully encourage AIDS stricken countries to drop the platform of condom usage, which was working to promote an “abstinent only” policy dealing with the threat of the disease and as a provision that 20 percent of the funding from PEPFAR must go to abstinent only programs. Powerful Evangelicals pastors have used their influence to encouraged government officials to be move to more of a faith base government. Our tax dollars are pushing this agenda, but it seems like no one is either admitting it or what us to know about it and current programs here in the states that those with the virus rely on are either underutilized, underfunded or unappreciated.

In the continuing global fight against HIV/AIDS, the world is forgetting about what is going on on the home front. HIV/AIDS is still infecting our communities and killing a new generation without the same outcry that came from the 80’s. With a disease continually on the rise, what can we do as a community to get our government’s attention…

Speak out!

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