‘The ties that bind…. A personal focus on localized HIV and AIDS’
Written by M. Douglas
The lobby was full of travellers and by the size of the Amtrak Station in Atlanta, Ga.; they weren’t accustomed to this many travellers at once. I wondered if all these people are going to Washington DC for March on Washington? “We have to go show our I.D. and check in our luggage,” said Kenny Hammond Albany’s Consortium President and an Advocate. After the announcement of boarding, I walked slowly for what seemed miles to the rear of the train to board, just thinking to myself. “These aren’t gay people going on this trip, these are black and white women. Also, some of these men are husbands and share a family with their wife.” These and many other thoughts clouded my mind such as how can I help prevent this disease from continuing to spread to how are these heterosexual men contracting this disease? The March on Washington afforded the opportunity for three local Albanians to travel to D.C. to rally for the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“Can I get your attention please, ladies and gentlemen can I get your attention please? I have a few things I want to tell you as we head on our (train) ride to D.C. The first thing is that President Obama signed on the bill to allow the grant funds to be released in those 25 states that have a waiting list for meds. Finally, I want you guys to be enthused and still rally for the cause regardless to knowing what has already happened. Because we are a united people and we stand together and we shouldn’t and don’t let anything or anyone stop you from banding together,” enthusiastically said William Francis, coordinator for City Wide Project.
People living with HIV/AIDS and advocates from all over the world we gearing up to march on Washington to rally for funds to support those living with HIV/AIDS and prevent the spread of the deadly disease. The global response to HIV/AIDS was facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall. Everyday HIV/AIDS claims up to 5,000 lives and less than 40% of people living with HIV in low and middle countries know their status.
When I first heard of the AIDS disease, it was associated with gay men. Wow! Now this disease that has been labeled by many as a nasty man’s disease; is currently associated with heterosexual men or women just as much as in the homosexual society. In Albany the disease seems to be a figment of everyone’s imagination because in 2003 there 456 total cases reported. In 2011, 1817 in Southwest Georgia and 61 new cases by public health district with an alarming rate of 18.5 percent, the numbers continue to rise. No one wants to discuss the problem of prevention. Albany is a small city where the citizens who are majority black lack in education thus not willing to addressing the underlying structural and social issues contributing to the spread of HIV.
US Reps. Hank Johnson and Barbara Lee are two that are urging the White House to step up in the fight against the rising HIV rates in the south and more particular African American women. In a Cross Roads Newspaper interview US. Representative Barbara Lee said, “Black women are getting sick and dying at an outrageous rate, while resources for treatment and prevention are total inadequate – especially in the South.” In a recent report on the epidemic in the South found that among people living with HIV, nine of the 10 states with the highest HIV fatality rates were in the South and women of color have been found to be less likely than men and white women to start antiretroviral therapy.
The first rally was the most exciting since everyone that arrived to Union Station on the same train were hyped about the International AIDS Conference’s 2012 declaration as everyone chanted, “Keep the Promise.” The people who were infected didn’t seem to be bothered by who knew their status as in my hometown Albany, Georgia. They even wore shirts that read, I am HIV Positive in big bold letters. The support from local D.C. citizens was astounding, as they seemed accustomed to openly positive individuals. Unfortunately, the city of Albany residents have not made tremendous progress in attacking barriers such as race, education, sex, poverty, and mainly stigma that fuels the spread of HIV in our community.
There are several groups and organizations locally that support HIV and AIDS patients where old and newly positive men and women can come together to discuss issues and support each other socially and resourcefully. “The problem in Albany seems to be the stigma of participation in an educational, support, and/or prevention group means that you have HIV,” said Adolphus Major, lead client advocate for 14 – counties in the Southwest region of Georgia.
The March on Washington Conference was a way for advocates to stand up and fight for funding and support for themselves and their family, friends, and our brothers and sisters. The numbers of new cases in Albany is not declining but steadily rising at an alarming rate. “Local Albanians living with HIV/AIDS and not getting the treatment to assist in living longer are refusing to go get treatment for fear of being seen and the stigma,” said Adolphus Major. These are not the only barriers that exist for positive people who don’t seek treatment but barriers such as: transportation, homelessness, financial assistance and medical assistance. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is serious and everyone should educate themselves on prevention and support to family members who are living with the disease. Even children ranging from the age of 13 – 16 are rapidly acquiring the disease. The epidemic is so prevalent that scientist has introduced the new drug Truvada as a preventive medication along with the use of prophylactics.
HIV/AIDS does not have a specific target anymore as it did when it was originally diagnosed, therefore everyone should be aware of the local statistics and resources available in your city. Anyone can be infected, but through treatment a person can live for a long time. I thought people who were dealing with the disease looked a certain way. This is not true because from my experience with fraternizing with the participants of the March on Washington, you can’t tell by just looking at a person anymore. Many people living with the disease look far healthier than people who don’t have the disease.
Albany being listed, as the 4th in the nation for poverty doesn’t help the spread of he disease, in fact it fuels it because of the lack financial stability and education. The city has more problems than it care to address. Because the city is ranked 4th in the nation, HIV/AIDS will spread faster and more than in a city that is not below the poverty line.
Johnson and Lee drafted a letter and it was co-signed by 50 colleagues urging the administration to develop and support specific approaches to reduce new HIV cases, increase access to care, and to reduce disparities in Southern states. This is a jump-start on the bigger issue as a whole. Now that the funding has been released, more jobs and better support should arise. A major focus for the city of Albany should be prevention, prevention, and prevention. More ways and avenues need to be opened up for the masses, so that everyone will have access to the treatment and programs available.
To view the complete letter, visit this website for more information and details, http://hankjohnson.house.gov/issues/LeeJohnsonSouthWomenAIDSLetter.pdf.