Yes, I am a day early….Tomorrow is actually World AIDS Day but for some every day is a day living with HIV/AIDS. The recent disclosure by Charlie Sheen about his HIV status has brought this disease to the forefront yet again.
The theme this year is “Getting to Zero” which is in tandem with UNAIDS vision of achieving “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths”.
For me, I am reflecting on the lessons that I learned when I worked for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. As a new “inexperienced” Social Worker and a recovering addict, I was the “crazy white lady” that stepped into Bridgeton wanting to help the world. Yes, that is what many of my clients thought of me and willing shared as we got to know each other.
I didn’t see any of the people that walked through our doors as “diseased”, “hopeless” or less than. I saw them as people who because of their bad choices were sick. “There by the grace of God go I” was a constant reminder for me since I too had made bad choices over the years.
So what could I do in a little office (actually half a duplex) with little funding, the only paid staff, a handful of volunteers (who in many cases were also clients) and a heart that wanted to save them all. In the early years, AIDS was not a “manageable disease” for many it was a death sentence. It took babies from their mothers, it took moms and dads from their kids, it took people from all walks of life – yet no one talked about it. I can remember the first few funerals where the family said “they died of cancer” because they did not want their loved one to be remembered for the stigma that went with HIV/AIDS. This was the world that I dedicated a large portion of my professional life to – a total of about 15. Belinda grew up joining me in this battle to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS. She played with kids who were HIV-positive, she shared her toys, she helped with fundraising, as well as sorting and delivering holiday toys. She grew up with a passion for helping people that I admire.
Fast forward to today, where little is spoken about HIV/AIDS unless a celebrity says the words. It is now a manageable disease so we seldom hear the prevention message. There are medicines that can help to keep you going, so why worry, right?
We aren’t there yet – we are close. There are still 1.1 million people living with HIV in the US today. Only 1 in 4 people are making their way through the obstacles called health care and medications. Let’s not be complacent. Let’s continue to share how HIV can be transmitted.
Let’s all work together for a day when there is an AIDS-Free Generation.
Today is in honor of those who lost their fight, and those who continue to fight every day. You blessed my life more than you will ever know. Thank you for allowing this “crazy white chick” to be a part of your lives.
Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!