Browsing Category: HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Strength in Story Sharing: Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Jacob_Smith_YangBy Jacob Smith Yang
Capacity Building Director
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

I confess. As a former executive director of a small organization in Boston, I once faced the prospect of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with a twinge of dread each May 19.

Our organization worked with a number of AAs and NHPIs living with HIV/AIDS. Each of them had amazing, compelling stories of learning about their HIV statuses, struggling with disclosing their status, seeking and receiving support, and accessing care and services. My staff and I all knew firsthand the bravery and perseverance of each of these people.

Yet for the longest time, we couldn’t identify one person who was willing to speak publicly about her or his experiences. We knew that telling these stories had the potential to transform people’s hearts and minds about HIV/AIDS in our communities.

In fact, for many years we could not even successfully bring together the minimum of four AA and NHPI people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) required for our Consumer Advisory Board (CAB). HIV positive members of our community would initially agree to come, but at the last minute, they would not attend. Talking to them, we realized that the idea of walking into a room and immediately disclosing such a private part of your life—your HIV status—to complete strangers was understandably daunting.

By 2005, things began changing. Groups like the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center’s Banyan Tree Project (BTP) worked to raise the visibility of PLWHA as a way to decrease societal stigma. BTP brought a national media campaign and resources that we previously could only have dreamed of. Finally, we started to see a shift. In 2007, we had a consumer advisory board meeting where three AA and NHPI PLWHA attended! The fact that they were comfortable and trusted us to be supportive was gratifying. We strategized ways to decrease stigma and improve access to services. And together we came up with plans that worked for the community at large and for them—an important goal in all my work.

The following year, one of our CAB meeting attendees spoke at our local press conference for National AA and NHPI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. He relayed his incredible journey, including delaying getting an HIV test that he long-suspected he needed until his illness and symptoms prevented him from walking. He could not face the prospect of what his neighbors and community might say about his family if they knew he was HIV positive. Others were inspired by his story and his courage and became committed to talking publicly about their lives.

While we have continued to make progress since then, there is still much to do. One in 4 AA and NHPI PLWHA are unaware they are infected with HIV. Thirty-six percent of HIV diagnoses among AAs and NHPIs progressed to AIDS in less than 12 months in 2010. Early testing and access to treatment can change that.

As capacity building director at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, I work to make HIV/AIDS programs and organizations stronger. I work as part of a national program called Capacity for Health (C4H), which provides free capacity building assistance across the United States and its affiliated territories. Funded for more than 20 years by the CDC, C4H works with health departments, community-based organizations, and programs across all racial/ethnic groups to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Each day, I carry with me the stories of AA and NHPI PLWHA from Boston, and how their lives have changed. I gain strength and perspective now hearing the
personal narratives of diverse PLWHA all around the country. These stories continue to move, surprise, frustrate, and ground me.

This May 19, I’m inspired by each and every one of the 9,672 AAs and NHPIs diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in this country. And I remain ever committed to helping all communities encourage people to learn their HIV status and find the care and support they need. They are not alone.

Jacob Smith Yang is the former executive director of Massachusetts Asian & Pacific Islanders (MAP) for Health, and has worked on HIV/AIDS issues since 1991.

Working Towards a Healthier NOLA

Can you believe it’s almost halfway through April? Yeah, that’s what Team NOLA is feeling as this month flies by. March was a busy one for us. With countless meetings, Walgreens testing, Long Term Project, and several other events (cough cough Mardi Gras) – we barely had time to breathe. March was also Healthy Futures Month. We spent the month of March and beginning of April focusing on what we could do as a team to promote healthy living in New Orleans. Below is a snapshot of our “extra healthy” month:

1) Walgreens testing — This has been such an amazing partnership. Every other Thursday, the four of us head to one of the two Walgreens to test for four hours. We now have laminated signs in each store (yeah, we’re fancy) and two testing spaces. The testing has gone fabulously, especially since we started using INSTI, a 60-second finger-prick test. Find out your status in one minute- um, how could you say NO? More and more people are getting tested each week –and we have officially memorized all of the aisles in Walgreens.

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Students learn about clinics in their area

2) Syphilis Outreach — This is as fun as it sounds (well, fun for us). During the month of March we did outreach in three different locations across New Orleans. The purpose of outreach was to inform the community about free to low-cost testing resources. We also had quite a few conversations about syphilis itself (extra fun!) including the signs and symptoms, local infection rates, risks of no treatment, and treatment options. Needless to say we all have some entertaining stories.

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C.H.A.T. talks with students about their program

3) Health Fair- On March 19th Landry-Walker High School held a Health Extravaganza and invited our partner organizations, NO/AIDS Task Force (NATF) and Priority Health Care. Rebecca and I paired up with C.H.A.T. (Curbing HIV/AIDS Transmission), a youth program through NATF, to give away awesome prizes. We managed the “sex education table” where students could spin our wheel for a sexual health-related question. We had a blast! We talked with about 80 kids – all of whom knew little to nothing about HIV and STIs. The students were not shy with their questions which made it way more fun for us.  Overall, it was a well-planned and informative event. There was hula-hooping, food, games, prizes and more!

 

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Students show off their sweet hula-hooping skills

 

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From left- Louie, Lauren, Rebecca, and Michael setting up the tent for NYHAAD

4) NYHAAD- My favorite event in the last month or so was definitely National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (mouthful, right?). For NYHAAD, two of our placements hosted a testing/education event (C.H.A.T. Project & The Movement). We had free condoms, educational games, a photo booth… and even fried chicken! The testing event lasted 5 hours so it could accommodate those just getting out of school. We set up a booth outside of The Movement’s office- which happens to be a pretty busy corner- to attract attention to our testing event. A total of 20 people got tested, but plenty of people stopped by to learn….and of course grab food!

You may ask- what was the best part of your day, Helene? — JUST DANCE. At the end of the day, all four of us got to play the “Just Dance” game on the PS3 at the office. We had quite the audience. Hopefully all of the dancing evidence is burned. ;) Rebecca took home the crown of “best Team NOLA dancer” and our sweaty sad attempt at dancing ended in the cutest team picture of all time (see below).

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Louie modeling next to our sex education wheel

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Louie and I rocking The Movement’s photo booth for NYHAAD

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The cutest team photo ever- courtesy of our city supervisor

 

5) Long Term Project- So this is ACTUALLY the most exciting thing of the month- and the months to come! Our team is working on a website to help link individuals, especially youth, to medical care. Linkage to care is an incredibly important issue nationwide- but also in our own backyard. We want this website to be an important and holistic resource for someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV, who wants to get back into care, or who has just moved to NOLA and needs resources. Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis can be overwhelming. We want this website to be not only informative, but also encouraging and personal. During the month of March, we presented the website to several committees and had countless meetings.

To Team NOLA, this website is at the core of our “Healthy Futures” month. We made sure it was mobile-friendly, understandable, and discreet. Although it is a work-in-progress, we hope this website empowers youth to take charge of their own health and even inspire their peers. Stay tuned for the website launch! We can’t wait to share it and get some feedback. :)

 

Please excuse my incredibly long post this month. Healthy Futures month had us busy- but also I have troubling shutting up. If you have any questions -or just want to say hi to Team NOLA- our email is nolahealthlink@gmail.com !

Love,

Team NOLA

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: The Need for Action

Rachel headshotBy Rachel Yull
Public Policy Intern, AIDS United

This Thursday, April 10, was National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, commemorating the work that young people are doing to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This day gives young people the opportunity to show support as well as educate people about HIV.  I have noticed a lack of young people advocating for social issues, including HIV, and I encourage all youth to get involved in the fight to end HIV in our generation.  There are many things that you can do to get involved, whether getting tested at a local testing center, organizing a sexual health and HIV education program at your school, or distributing free condoms to increase access and awareness of safe practices.

Although HIV has not directly affected my close friends or family, I became an advocate after learning of the health disparities that exist within the Black community.  As a young Black woman I find this day of paramount importance for people in my demographic: the incidence of HIV among Black youth has been on the rise and Black youth make up 57% of all HIV infections among young people age 18-24.

Last year, during my sophomore year of college at Cornell University, I took a class entitled “The Sociology of Health of Ethnic Minorities.” This course gave me the ability to understand and the language to verbalize the health disparities that I have seen in my community.  With this knowledge I decided that I wanted to become an HIV advocate inspiring me to reach out to the AIDS United policy team.  When I received an internship to work with the policy team for a semester, I had no idea what to expect. I had never done any advocacy work before and the only things I knew about HIV were what I learned in class, but my internship at AIDS United has been one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Through my internship I have learned that although the rates of HIV are decreasing there is still much work to be done.  I learned about the HIV treatment cascade, which includes all of the steps of treatment from being diagnosed through having an undetectable viral load.  Among youth the most significant problem along the treatment cascade is a lack of awareness of their status, or their lack of education about the importance of getting tested.  According to the CDC, almost 60% of HIV positive youth do not know their status.  Therefore, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day reminds us to pay particular attention to campaigns and programs to educate youth on the importance of getting tested and knowing their status.  From my experience at AIDS United, I have also realized the importance of young people getting involved in politics and having our voices heard by our Representatives and Senators in Congress. This is the one of the effective ways that our generation can effect policy change that can help in leading to an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  On this National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s not only reflect on the work that needs to be done, but resolve to take action and do the work, regardless of our age or status.

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Music, Media, and Outreach

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By Bernadette Carriere
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when HIV was considered a death sentence, an idea that was perpetuated by much of the popular culture of the time.  Music channels like MTV were among the first to take the lead to promote awareness about many issues facing young people, including HIV, and the plight of urban youth. These two issues came to an intersection on the music television station with the untimely death of rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who died in 1995, soon after being diagnosed with AIDS.

I remember watching MTV’s news cover the rapper’s death.  N.W.A.’s group members, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren, were talking about their fallen comrade in disbelief as he would no longer be with them after contracting the fatal illness.  The media frenzy surrounding his death was headline news because HIV could now look like anyone.  After all, HIV was a virus associated with white gay males. A year prior, MTV aired The Real World: San Francisco which featured a cast member who was infected with the virus that causes AIDS.  The cast member for whom my fellowship was named, Pedro Zamora, brought international attention to HIV/AIDS and issues surrounding the LGBT community.

Prior to airing Real World: San Francisco, MTV helped to make an R&B girl group popular.  TLC gained rapid popularity through their racy song lyrics and their fashion sense.  They wore oversized clothing with condoms pinned to them.  They used their image to bring awareness to social issues that included the promotion of safe sex and they did so by removing the shame associated with condoms.  Everyone who watched music videos was able to see and hear their message.  However, after the death of Eazy-E, the message was now resonating with young adults across America.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to visit Metro TeenAIDS in DC’s Southeast neighborhood. I met with executive Director Adam Tenner, who listened to me express many concerns I had over the issues urban youth face today.  I was impressed by his level of commitment to kids that are sometimes dismissed as hopeless.  I was also equally impressed by the use of media and music Metro TeenAIDS used to keep the kids engaged in the program, as music videos on television have given way to web channels as a major component of youth engagement.

Then I had the opportunity to meet these wonderful kids who were well-mannered and welcoming.  They embraced me into their world and included me into their discussions.  I was initially shocked at the level of openness in which these kids engaged one another.   As an individual would openly talk about personal adversity another would politely listen and wait to share whatever it was that they were dealing with at the moment.  Most of the issues they discussed centered on wanting to be treated with respect and being trusted that they could make decisions and be responsible if given the proper tools.

It was poetry Friday.  Music was playing in the background and I wanted to engage the kids before the performances started.  I was interested in why was it important for them to be a part of Metro TeenAIDS considering the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  The response from the kids I talked to was the same.  They felt empowered to be able to teach their peers about sexual health and HIV prevention and they were using several media outlets to engage one another.

I left that day truly inspired.  The kids I spoke to were able to articulate their feelings about HIV and explain how they based their decisions to take action. Today, music television is no longer the primary source for reaching youth, and HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence.  However, music is still an important component in connecting with young people.  Metro TeenAIDS has utilized this method and has successfully created a community space for kids to unite.  They have also provided kids with the necessary tools they need to become effective advocates in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Addressing the Issues of Women, HIV and Violence Together, Today and Every Day

MDonze headshotBy Melissa Donze, Program Associate, AIDS United

Every year on March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and bring attention to the continued impact HIV has on the lives of women across the country. Women and girls make up about one in four of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, and a majority of these are women and girls of color. These women face barriers to accessing and staying in care, which is critical to their continued health and viral suppression.

When we talk about women’s health, however, talking about HIV alone isn’t enough; we must talk about violence too. Experiences of violence and resultant trauma have a significant impact on women’s health, especially for women living with HIV. Women living with HIV experience highly disproportionate rates of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to the general population of women: 55% have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), twice the national rate; over 60% have been sexually abused, five times the national rate; and 30% have PTSD, six times the national rate. Trauma and PTSD are associated with poor health outcomes at each stage of the HIV care continuum, including disengagement from care, medication non-adherence and medication failure. Recent trauma is also linked with almost twice the rate of death among HIV-positive women.

In September 2013, we took a huge step forward in addressing these issues. The President’s Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities, formed in March 2012, released a report that identified five objectives and recommended actions for federal agencies to increase interventions to link women living with HIV and affected by violence to much-needed services and care, as well as encourage broader prevention efforts and research. In response to this report, AIDS United, with generous support from AbbVie, convened a Summit with an interdisciplinary group of activists, thought leaders, academics, women living with HIV and federal partners to provide commentary and develop innovative community-driven advocacy and implementation strategies to address the intersection of women, HIV and violence. The strategies developed throughout the two-day meeting, summarized here, provide tangible steps we can take to ensure that the issues of women, HIV and violence are addressed together.

These experiences are lived by women and girls across the country every day, so while a single day to highlight the impact of HIV on women and girls is important, it simply isn’t enough. We must continue to have these conversations every day because violence is real and affects every aspect of women’s health, especially for women living with HIV, and it won’t go away tomorrow. Let’s use National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to recommit ourselves to addressing HIV and violence together, for all the women in our lives.

Click here to view photos from the summit.

The Importance of Community Based Organizations for Women and Girls

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By Priya Rajkumar, Vice President of Client Health Services, Metro Wellness and Community Centers
On March 10th each year, National Women’s and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day brings to the forefront the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. The unique challenges women face from partner violence, lack of child care, and absence of support and hope are issues which are often overlooked. Not to mention the impact of poverty and limited resources that is in the mix to manage.

Metro Wellness and Community Centers (Metro) has for so long understood the tremendous impact of these issues on women and girls. Providing gender responsive programming to help support, empower, and provide hope to women and girls infected and affected by HIV/AIDS has been a successful strategy in helping women to overcome numerous barriers to attain good health and stability in their lives. I am grateful to be part of the difference that Metro makes in the lives of the many women we serve. However, there is much more work to be done.

The theme for NWGHAAD “Share Knowledge, Take Action” holds true each and every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of the end of 2010, one in four people living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in the United States were women. Black/African American women and Latinas are disproportionately affected by HIV infection compared with women of other races/ethnicities. Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in blacks/African Americans, 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics/Latinas.

CBOs must continue to focus on at-risk women, including those who are left to support and care for children whose father is incarcerated, as well as women and girls who, because of their own criminal background, are struggling to find a job, cannot find adequate housing, and cannot afford proper nutrition for their children, much less find child care so that they can take time to seek medical care.

It is critical that community based organizations (CBOs) and advocacy groups continue to keep the discussion active around the issues women and girls with HIV/AIDS are living with every day. Many like Metro are effective in helping women and girls achieve good health outcomes through services like medical case management, support groups, behavioral health care, and much more. These CBOs offer expertise in finding innovative means to reach women and girls in their communities to provide education about HIV testing, prevention, and treatment options.

Metro, as a member of the AIDS United Public Policy Community, relies on the advocacy efforts of this body to share the very real successes happening in the field and to keep the discussion of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls active. Without the advocacy, education and joint efforts, this very important work would not be able to continue.

As we host our own events and participate in other community events on NWAGHAAD, let’s strive to keep the awareness and recognition of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls at the forefront of our discussions and encourage each other to take action towards reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.