I am about to climb on my soap box. I won’t be long, but alas here I am. Today is World AIDS Day. Quite a significant day for a woman who is the executive director of the only female specific AIDS service organization in NJ, the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network. An organization that has been around since 1988: an organization that is still very small and exists under the radar of those in need. Many who need our services still do not know that we are around. That is because we are continually challenged by the economic downturn of funding agencies (even before the so-called recession) - it makes it challenging for NJWAN to grow and increase its services.
Let me tell you why I am on my soap box. I am very frustrated and I dare to say angry beyond belief. Today my office telephone did not ring, there were no camera crews outside the office building waiting to interview me or the staff. Once again, the issue of HIV as it relates to women has gone unnoticed, swept under the carpet like dust bunnies. NJWAN used to receive at least one inquiry from someone in the media, but today, nothing. Where is the outrage? NJ has the highest proportion of women living with AIDS in the nation and the only female specific AIDS service organization did not receive an inquiry from the media? I attended a Worlds AIDS Day Event in Trenton this evening: it was a great event. But there were very few new faces. I call it preaching to the choir. No new questions, no new issues, no real challenges. I challenged the group to bring two new people each next year. I hope it works. The mayor of Trenton didn’t even stay for the entire event: the state capital, where according to one Trenton journalist’s suggested T-Shirt campaign. “In Trenton, every black person does not have HIV/AIDS — but we’re working on it”. Where is the political attention to HIV? It has fallen off like the media attention. Occasionally HIV receives some media attention, however, the attention usually is focused on the global issue not the domestic crisis. As we move closer to healthcare reform, it appears that HIV will be considered a chronic manageable disease. Is it really a chronic manageable disease? What other chronic manageable diseases are infectious? Which chronic manageable diseases can you contract from engaging in unprotected sex or can be passed from mother to child? Which others carry the stigma that HIV carries? Which chronic manageable diseases have a treatment regimen that involves such significant side effects?
Why are we being quiet as HIV ravishes our families and communities? Why, after 30 years of living with HIV do most individuals only talk openly about HIV one day a year? How long did it take to move from saying “The Big C” to actually saying Cancer? Was it 30 years? When will we realize that silence and shame truly do result in death? When will we move from using terms like high risk behaviors to describe the specific behaviors that place an individual at risk of contracting HIV: anal, oral vaginal sex and needle sharing. When is sex a high-risk behavior? How many people assess their behaviors as high-risk? If you do not assess your behaviors accurately then you will never realize your risk of contracting HIV.
What are the solutions? What are the answers to my questions? I have no idea what your answers are but this day is about recommitment. Today, December 1 2010, I will commit to NJWAN continuing to work hard to address the negative stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. NJWAN will continue to try to mobilize communities around HIV issues. NJWAN will continue to address the social justice and reproductive issues that are the foundation of HIV infection. Finally, I will continue to lead NJWAN and make as much noise as possible about the impact of HIV in our lives. What will you do? Won’t you join us?
Here I am, stepping off my soap box…..for now.