It’s been more than two years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta launched a national HIV/AIDS awareness campaign aimed at African-American gay and bisexual men. The final phase of the highly touted initiative rolls out next month with the mandate, “Know Your Status!”
The CDC’s first segment of a five-year HIV/AIDS awareness campaign was implemented in 2009, called “Act Against AIDS.” Among other things, the effort sought to strongly persuade African-American men between the ages of 20 and 40 to get regularly tested for the virus. About 40 percent of all new HIV infections are among African-Americans. Additionally, Latinos are also disproportionately infected with the virus.
About 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS and more than 200,000 of them are Hispanic. Add to the mix that the incidence rate among Hispanic men is double that of Caucasian men. Thousands of African-American and Hispanics in the metro area are living with the virus.
“The HIV epidemic in America consists of so many different fires, each raging within a different community,” said Myles Hefland, editorial director for the popular and informative medical website theBody.com. “Too often, the epidemic among Latinos gets less attention than it needs because our country is too distracted by the fires in other communities.”
In addition to the alarming rate of infection among minority communities was a recent study by the CDC that showed nearly 60 percent of HIV-positive African-American and Hispanic gay and bisexual men didn’t even know they had the virus.
One such person was Arial, a 40-year-old Hispanic man in New York City. Arial discovered he was HIV-positive in 1992 after randomly getting tested for the virus.
“I wasn’t sick or didn’t have any medical problems, and just decided to get tested one day,” he said. “I was shocked when the results showed that I was positive for HIV.”
Washington, D.C., resident Ricky Stith was first diagnosed with the virus in 1996. Stith, 52, said because of early testing, medications and counseling, he has been able to live a mostly healthy and productive life 15 years after being diagnosed.
“I think a lot of people don’t want to know their status,” Stith said. “Knowing and not knowing are two different things…learning that you’re positive early on and treating the virus can save and prolong your life.” To locate an HIV/AIDS testing center near you, visit www.cdc.com.