World AIDS Day: Until a cure comes along

On Dec. 1, we will observe the 20th World AIDS Day. The day when individuals and organizations from around the world come together to bring attention to the global AIDS epidemic.
In a year when we are celebrating a historic change in the political landscape of this country, for millions of women worldwide infected with HIV/AIDS, there is little to celebrate. And if they are living in southeast Michigan, these women appear to be right at the epicentre of the state's epidemic.
Not only is there still no cure for AIDS, but the number of women infected has more than tripled from the 7 percent rate of 1986 to over 26 percent. Metro-Detroit, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Lapeer and St. Clair counties have 44 percent of Michigan's population, but account for 69 percent of Michigan's estimated cases of HIV. If southeast Michigan is the epicenter then the city of Detroit is ground zero making up only 9 percent of Michigan's population but 40 percent of the state's reported cases of HIV/AIDS.
African American women and other women of color comprise a disproportionate percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS, however it's not just an urban issue. Women in the suburbs and rural areas are also affected. Youth and senior citizens are similarly affected.
The challenges facing our society in general – unemployment, lack of education, poverty, inadequate healthcare, help to drive the growing epidemic among women. Fewer financial resources, the added responsibility of caring for others and poverty, often serve as barriers to treatment.
Yet somehow in our conversations about hope, change and the promise of tomorrow our sisters, mothers, aunts and daughters are getting left behind. Left behind because far too many of us don't want to talk about, think about or acknowledge that HIV/AIDS is not just about "those" people but about our people.
It's not just the gays, drug-users or prostitutes it's the woman in the church pew, at the next desk, on the plant floor, the mother at the PTA meeting, the young person (as young as 13) and the little old lady/senior citizen down the street. But we remain like ostriches with our heads stuck in the sand taking a "Don't ask. Don't tell" attitude towards this continuing crisis.
Ask most people about HIV/AIDS and a conversation on condoms is sure to ensue. Male condoms, female condoms, always use a condom, condoms, condoms, condoms. Although the use of condoms is an important part of prevention we have to do more.
Advocacy, prevention, education and care are actions we can all take and we need to be doing it at the kitchen table, in our churches, schools, sororities, bowling leagues, beauty salons and anywhere women come together.
HIV/AIDS has been associated with what has been deemed unacceptable or risky behavior – promiscuity, drugs, the down low. I've heard ministers talk about "those people" while the sisters in the church nodded "Amen" never considering that the woman sitting beside them was keeping the secret.
Women living lives of quiet desperation, being subjected to or tolerating domestic violence rather than facing the social isolation. Women, who may have been victims of violent or forced sex, don't speak up fearful of being victimized again by a community with little or no education on HIV/AIDS.
Women sixty, seventy and older are leading productive, full lives often loving again after divorce or widowhood not realizing they are at risk. They had the "Facts of life" Talk with us but who is having the "Facts of HIV/AIDS" talk with them. I have one friend who bravely sat down with her retired mother and had the talk with her when she realized her mom was "dating."
While there is no cure yet, HIV treatment has come a long way since the first reported cases in the early 1980s. Today, there are a number of therapies and medications available.
Condoms, while necessary for the success of HIV/AIDS prevention, are by no means sufficient. Prevention efforts need to be supported with strong political leadership, appropriate funding, sound policies, and well coordinated programs.
One of my sheroes in this fight against HIV/AIDS is Renee McCoy. I can recall over 15 years ago meeting Renee. She was providing hospice support for HIV/AIDS patients in our community. She wore a pager on her hip and just about the time she was ready to sit down to dinner it went off. She was tired, weary, heavy laden with the burden of seeing too many in our community die. Yet when that pager went off she got up and left to be at the side of another sister/brother in need.
When she assumed the position of Director of HIV/AIDS Programs for the City of Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, she set about reactivating the Michigan Women and Aids Committee, co-chairing the committee with Barbara Jean Johnson, director of Community Affairs state of Michigan. MWAC advocates on behalf of women in our community who are infected with, affected by or at-risk for HIV infection by promoting HIV prevention and supportive services through HIV education, community collaborations and enhancing HIV awareness."
As she and Barbara passed the torch of leadership to Kim Snell and I – the incoming MWAC Co-Chairs, Renee reminded us that HIV/AIDS was about more than education and prevention. It is also about care.
As we observe World AIDS Day, let's each take on the responsibility to educate ourselves and our communities, to get tested and encourage our community to get tested and demand strong political, religious and community leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our community.
This World AIDS day let's all be advocates on behalf of members of our community – in our schools, at work, in our churches, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, everybody – who are infected with, affected by or at-risk for HIV infection.
Do it for your community. Do it for women. Do it for the world
MWAC meets in Detroit, the most affected urban area in Michigan. The group forming new committees and is open to new members. Contact Maxine Guy [email protected] Kim Snell and Michelle E Brown Co-Chairs.

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