Did you know that Saturday was World AIDS Day?
I wasn’t paying attention. Like so many Americans, I have the luxury of acting as if the virus doesn’t exist.
But AIDS is still a major problem in the US. I live in the South, the region of the country that experiences the highest rate of the disease. But most of the time (or even all the time) it’s completely off my radar. There are lots of reasons for this, one of which is the fact that people living with HIV/AIDS are largely invisible. For all I know, my neighbor could be HIV positive, but I would have no idea. Unlike breast cancer or even depression, HIV is so stigmatized that people with the disease remain completely hidden.
Remember that old mantra, silence= death? It still does.
When was the last time you saw a “I’m HIV positive” bumper sticker? Or even a red ribbon?
HIV continues to be a disease that highlights social inequality. According to a new report:
- Black women account for 64% of all new HIV diagnoses in the country
- Nine of ten of the states with the highest death rate of HIV are in the South
- Approximately 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime
If these numbers make you shudder, they should. I know 16 Black men, many of whom are family. Statistically, one of them could have HIV, but if they do, I wouldn’t know it. We don’t talk about it.
One innovative strategy for addressing this issue developed by the NAACP in partnership with Gilead Sciences is to engage Black churches as partners in preventing the onslaught of this disease. They’ve developed a training manual for pastors in Black churches, guiding them on how to address HIV/AIDS in their communities and emphasizing that it is a social justice issues.
Highlighting the interconnectedness of social inequality to health disparities is one of the most crucial ways to improve public health. The training manual encourages pastors to be inclusive to gay and lesbian congregants, and to exercise compassion as part of a mission to save lives.
It’s an unlikely partnership in some ways, but one that is meaningful and that will hopefully prove to be effective.
What do you think? Has HIV/AIDS affected you at all? Have you heard of other unlikely partnerships aimed at preventing other diseases?