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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First there's the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office, or AACO, a fulcrum for HIV/AIDS programming, doling out city, state and federal dollars to community-based programs like WATS and the Circle of Care, creating a strong network of like-minded advocates. AACO is the only government HIV/AIDS care organization of its kind in the U.S.

Then, there are concerned politicians who fight to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS because they've heard about its effects from constituents. Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Hughes and his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph (an original Dreamgirl on Broadway), have a campaign called "Test Together" for couples. City Councilperson Blondell Reynolds-Brown is also deeply concerned and involved.

"As part of my work in the Philadelphia City Council, I've made an effort to be a real, solid, consistent voice for women. So any issue that's impacting or adversely affecting women, I try to as best I can become fluent and knowledgeable about it," Reynolds-Brown says. "Thanks to Sheryl Lee Ralph, my awareness was heightened about HIV/AIDS, so with that new 'awakening' I learned that HIV is rising in our senior citizen community. One of the characters in Sheryl's one-woman show is an older woman who's started dating again after divorce or being widowed and through having unprotected sex, has to deal with the consequences: HIV/AIDS."

Reynolds-Brown is also a firm believer that we've got to do more on the prevention side. "It really does start in our middle schools," she says. "We can no longer wait until young ladies become ninth graders to understand the value and importance of abstinence, and if you must, safe sex. I want to see programs built into school curriculums. Early prevention is absolutely essential."

All the proposed solutions by people for the high incidence of HIV among Philadelphia's black women--whether young or old--begin with a conversation. All the testing, abstinence and "gaydar" in the world won't make a dent if we're still worried about talking. The age gap only makes this worse.

"People are living longer. Partners die. There are a lot more women who are older who are interested in sex too," says Abdul-Khabeer. "They're living in these senior high-rise buildings and because they're old they don't think they or anyone else would have a disease. So not being a part of that mainstream social conversation makes it really hard."

In other words, how do you talk to your mother or grandmother about HIV, when there are men their age who are interested in dating?

"They're from a certain era," says Abdul-Khabeer. "They don't talk like us. We need to design programs to reach that generation and address these issues. They're in the desert of HIV information."

"Women, find something else to do with your life, with your time," says Dr. Curry. "We're facing mortality. When I walk around campus and see these girls all over these men, pinned up against a wall or a pole, I just want to go grab them and ask, 'Why would you disrespect yourself that way and then allow this man to disrespect you?' We need to talk about it."

Curry would like to have a roundtable discussion, where women could talk openly about the midlifer phenomenon.

"Women need to hear from those who have lived it that a man cannot validate you," she says. "We need to validate ourselves. Our character and integrity is all we have. Why allow someone to take that from us?"

"If you don't feel good about yourself, you aren't going to negotiate condom use," says Danielle Parks, echoing Dr. Curry's views. "It just won't happen."

As for Emma, she hopes to find the courage Abdul-Khabeer spoke about to talk to her family and close friends in a more personal way about her relationship with HIV.

"I have to tell my family at some point because now my days aren't as easy as they used to be," she says. "I go through periods where I'll get diarrhea really bad and can't leave the house. I've been heavily depressed and am on medication for depression."

Emma's husband passed away in August of 2004 of an AIDS-related opportunistic lung infection.

"I don't have a partner and am not sexually active now. I'm a widow, and people like my mother, my aunts and cousins, they know there's something going on, but we don't talk about it. We avoid the whole conversation although I've had weight loss and hair loss, all the little things that someone gets with the disease. Sometimes when I can't get out of bed or when I have doctor's appointments on a regular basis, I'll tell them, but that's all they want to know.

"It's like they know, but they don't want to know."

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COMMENTS

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

“LET THEM DIE, AIDS IS DOING A CLEANING JOB ON BAD PEOPLE MOSTLY. I DONT GET TESTED COS I DONT HAVE SEX WITH ANYONE. I DONT VIOLATE THE COMMANDS OF MY RELIGION COS I M MUSLIMS ROCK.”

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