Facing the Facts

Uncovering the truth about HIV.

By Kellie C. Murphy
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Nov. 12, 2008

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Illustrations by Pushmepullyou Design

The African-American woman in the photo looks about 60, maybe 65. Her graying hair in a tidy bun, she wears a neat blue and white silk dress with a bow at the neckline. She tilts her head and gives a melancholy half-smile for the camera. Above her head are the words "I Never Asked. I Wish I Did."

Inside the brochure this sweet-looking lady tells her story. She'd been widowed. She began dating a longtime friend. They never discussed sexual history, and because of her age, birth control wasn't an issue.

Now she has HIV.

It seems strange, even freakish, but it's all too common.

HIV/AIDS is the No. 1 killer of black American women between 25 and 34. But the fastest growing segment of HIV incidence is among black women in their 50s and 60s.

Grandma has AIDS.


Women get together to discuss many different things. We talk about family, we talk about politics, we gossip endlessly. But when it comes to talking about HIV/AIDS and the simple things we can do to prevent it, our mouths are shut.

Philadelphia-specific HIV statistics are grave. Averages here are higher than the rest of the nation, especially among women. Philadelphia's response is appropriately targeted, with some of the best resources that a handful of clinicians, dedicated community outreach staff and concerned politicians have to offer.

But the issue remains unresolved because, despite all the effective treatment options, modern education models and testing programs, those at the highest risk of infection and transmission are still not talking to each other about their lifestyles and will not discuss HIV.

Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer refuses to get lost in a statistical forest. As the deputy director of the Circle of Care, part of the Family Planning Council and one of Philadelphia's major HIV/AIDS care facilities, she's been preaching about the importance of getting together to talk--simply and frankly--for years.

"I've given up on all the statistics," Abdul-Khabeer says. "If you want statistics, look in the paper. For me, its all about dialogue. The question is whether you have enough information to protect yourself and enough courage to implement what you know. And the answer is no, there's not enough information and there's not enough courage."

It's hard to believe there isn't enough information. Who doesn't know after all this time how HIV is spread? But there are women who still perceive HIV/AIDS as a gay male disease, or who are in denial about their boyfriend or husband cheating on them.

A Philadelphia woman, let's call her Emma, has one such story.

Emma had been married for four years. Her husband got sick with what turned out to be pneumonia during the winter months of 1999. One night, barely breathing, he was rushed to the emergency room and quarantined.

Hospital staff asked for a consultation with Emma. They told her that her husband had full-blown AIDS and that she and her three children needed to be tested.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Ouch! said... on Nov 14, 2008 at 07:45AM

“The number of Black men who have sex with other men is also alarming. What is more disturbing is the number who don't think it is "Gay Sex" because they also sleep with women. These same men are coming home to their wives and kids after doing there homeys... pretty much disgusting and an obvious factor of where it's spreading from.”

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2. Brook Singletary said... on Nov 17, 2008 at 09:13AM

“Being someone who is committed to preventing, treating, and eradicting HIV/AIDS, I was excited to read this article. I must say I was extremely disappointed. To begin, it was an interesting aspect of the disease to write about but it was obvious the writer was not familiar with the disease. The statement, "Grandma has AIDS" is offensive and tackless. The stigma that still exists with the acronym AIDS is very real and reading this statement immediately gave the impression the author is not senstive to the real discrimination facing people living with AIDS. Her statment, I'm sure, was to breathe some type of light humor into an otherwise heavy topic. It was out of place and not appropriate. Secondly, the phrase, "full-blown AIDS" does not exist. No one on Earth has "full-blown AIDS". Someone is either CDC-defined as having AIDS or they are not. If they are suffering from an opportunistic infection because of a compromised immune system, they are still living with AIDS, not "full-blown AIDS". Again, this was another sign that the author is not familiar with the world of HIV/AIDS because, while this phrase is common is street-vernacular, it is not accepted or used in the medical field of HIV/AIDS. Therefore, if you are going to write a credible piece on HIV, please check your facts. Lastly, the statement of, "Philadelphia-specific HIV statistics are grave..." is interesting. I say this because, perhaps had the author looked at national statistics, or was familiar with HIV, it would be rather apparent to her that Philadelphia statistics may be grave, but not for the staggering numbers. In fact, they are staggering because they are so low. By this I mean the amount of people identified as living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia is so low that it is obvious that people in Philadelphia are not getting tested for the disease. This points to the grave fact that there is still overwhelming stigma regarding the disease and what it means to be HIV+. While I was excited to see a paper cover the disease, I was ultimately disappointed to see that it was yet another piece that was not researched and lacked sensitivity to the subject.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 7, 2009 at 11:11AM

“Yes, enough black men are sexing other men to be a problem in this respect-but it's still the exception, not the norm. Most of the black men who get it got it from illegal drugs or a woman-please let's stop believing that a straight man can't get HIV if he's never been with a man. I'm a transplant from DC, the population that is most likely to be gay there (wealthy white men) is also less likely to have HIV than straight Black people, male or female. AIDS IS NOT A GAY DISEASE!”

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4. student said... on Dec 9, 2009 at 03:38PM

“To Anonymous above me- well said! This is an important thing for people to remember.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:56AM

“The reason I think the media made people living on the DL as a major reason why people were getting HIV is because it's true. All you have to do is read reports from the cdc. Also, I would like to say, Yes hiv is not a gay disease, but it's easily spread by anal sex so yes they are more vunerable to get it. I think you should be honest and let people know that hiv is not as easily contracted as you make it seem. I'm assuming you make it like it's so easy to contract so your organization can get more funding.”

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6. Alex said... on May 11, 2010 at 12:51AM

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2011 at 09:41AM

“The reason people have this is cause they don't care what happens to other people. This is against the law, a person should be tested for this before they sleep with someone, and if they don't the person that they gave HIV to should put them in JAIL. I spoke with a doctor that told me that anyone can get this, and what goes around comes around, I think god protects those that are not wanting to do this, people make false statements against others all the time, and they will have that done to them, and when I say anyone can get this its not just the black race. With the trouble in the areas of nudity and woman allowing men to hurt them is wrong. If I was to give this to someone, I would walk my set to the jail sell and rest my self for murder.”

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8. Jake said... on Mar 15, 2012 at 01:25PM

“It's so important that we get tested for HIV frequently. I was just tested at GALAEI and I would recommend that anyone do it. They are at 1207 Chestnut St, on the 5th floor.

Their website is: http://www.galaei.org/programs/hiv-testing/”

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9. sabun said... on Oct 1, 2013 at 09:31AM



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