Getting Rid of the Stigma of HIV/AIDS to Find a Cure
By Leona Dunn
“What person goes to Kroger’s, gets stuck and starves to death? That is exactly what we are doing; we are in a world where we have everything we need to survive. So let’s eat,” T. K. Hampton told over 200 people at a recent luncheon at TSU.
Hampton created the luncheon and a play to explore how HIV/AIDS is affecting the African American community. He also wanted to look at solutions to get the number of HIV transmissions from over 5,000 a year to zero.
Stigma was labeled the leading cause of why research was being negatively impacted, making it harder for scientists to reach their goal.
President of Meharry Medical College Dr. James E.K. Hildreth said one of the biggest disappointments is that many vaccine trials have failed and the last couple of tests have actually made people more susceptible to the disease. That is the opposite of what they would hope it would do. Part of the reason is because scientists still do not understand how sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted on a molecular level. Yet there is also a bright side to this previously fatal disease.
“There are now more than 25 medicines and a single pill regimen available that people can take in order to never make that transition from HIV to AIDS. There is also a pill called P.R.E.P which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis pill which is 99% effective towards preventing the spread of H.I.V for people who practice risky behavior,” Dr. Hildreth said, “now if I know that there is a pill out there that I can take daily that will prevent me from contracting this lifetime disease, I would take it! But now the regular man will not because if I am seen taking this pill I am admitting to myself and others that I indulge in risky behavior and it is that stigma keeping us from being where we need to be.”
Dr. Hildreth said if nothing else is done, people need to be ambassadors against stigma. Eliminating the stigma, he said, would solve more than the problem of the virus.
“Even in African American churches I see the stigma of associating HIV with sin. HIV is a virus; it is not a sin, it is a biological entity,” Dr. Hildreth said.
In America if the rate continues to affect as many people as it is, then one out of two black, one out of four Latino, and 1 out of 11 Caucasian men that sleep with men will contract this disease.
It is more widely spread in the African American community because out of all demographics people of African descent are. A total of 70 percent are more likely to sleep with people that look like them. Meaning African Americans keep things such as diseases and genes within their race because they are less likely to partner with someone else outside of the race.
“What better place to talk about black love than in the month of February where there is African American history month and the celebration of Valentine’s day, and what better place to spread this knowledge than at an HBCU?” T.K. Hampton exclaimed.
Hampton introduced the acronym C.A.R. which stands for Conversation, Action and Reservation. The first step is to have the conversation about the issue to make others aware.
The second step is to take action. Finally, retention would be the result of the action. The hope is bring the transmission and retention rate eventually down to zero.
Speaker Marvell L. Terry II, HIV/AIDS Project Manager, Human Rights Campaign in Washington D.C also talked about the stigma associated withHIV/AIDS.
“A lack of education, a lack of access to healthcare, increased risk of substance abuse and homelessness and an increased livelihood of engaging in sex work as a source of income,” all contribute to the problem, he said.
“When an individual becomes HIV positive, their priorities don’t change their concerns on a day to day basis. Finding and maintaining income, keeping food to eat and ensuring a place to sleep at night. . . simply surviving,” become all important, Terry said.
“Black Churches were a huge asset to the civil rights movement, being places to gather and organize to train and inspire. Yet the response to the HIV epidemic has been slow to non-existent.
“ The reality is that bisexual, gay, and transgender women are in a crisis, yet they don’t have the full support of where they tithe, participate in ministry and were they call home, there is homophobia in the church also known as stigma,” Terry said.
Terry encouraged youth to run for public office to influence public policy. “We need to be building more Oprah Winfrey’s, more Wilma Rudolph’s and on this campus we can build more Barack Obama’s, he told the audience.