Browsing Category: Policy/Advocacy

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.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Challenging ACA’s “Contraception Mandate”

Kayla HeadshotBy Kayla Patterson, Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this Tuesday in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” The Court will decide the federal government can mandate that private businesses owned provide health plans with no-cost coverage for contraception, even if doing so conflicts with the employer’s religious beliefs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the so-called “contraception mandate” requires companies to provide health insurance plans with no-cost access to 20 forms of birth control for female employees. The challengers, two devoutly religious families and their private businesses, have an objection to four forms of birth control in the mandate: two brands of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and two brand of the “morning after” pill.  The families believe life begins at conception, and by covering those four forms of birth control, they would be “complicit in abortion.”

Those watching the case closely anticipate the Court to draw on precedent from certain cases examining the role of religion and employers’ rights. In 1990, the Supreme Court heard Employment Division v. Smith, ruling  that laws that apply equally to everyone do not have to make exceptions for religion. In response to Smith, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, which states that the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless that burden uses the least restrictive means to promote a very important interest of the government. The plaintiffs in this week’s hearings argue that the contraception mandate violated RFRA, thereby asserting that corporations are “people” and protected under the law.

Walter Dellinger, former solicitor general for President Bill Clinton, expressed to the difficulty of establishing that a corporation has a conscience that is being violated or overridden. If the challengers win, however, the Supreme Court could extend First Amendment protections to to corporations and expand RFRA protection for “persons” to include for-profit companies. Lyle Denniston, a journalist from SCOTUSblog.com, stated the two cases raise the profound question of whether a private, for-profit corporation can “exercise” religion and, if it can, to what extent current laws protect a corporation’s religious freedom.

The contraception mandate was prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and follows a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-profit division of the National Academy of Science. The IOM concluded that contraceptives are an effective tool to reduce unwanted pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions, but that many women do not have the resources to purchase contraceptives they need or those that will be most effective.

If the challengers win, female workers of the two companies involved and of other companies whose owners cite religious objections would have to personally cover costs of at least some birth control services. According to some women’s rights groups, millions of women could be affected. There is yet another possible alarming outcome: companies could impose their own religious beliefs on their employees in a way that substantially burdens an employee’s right to make her own decision on whether she wants to use contraception.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor both expressed concern that an exemption from providing birth control services to female employees could lead to companies finding other medical and non-medical services religiously objectionable. Though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has a discrimination provision, it is unclear how far it will reach if the challengers were to prevail. There is the possibility that employers could seek exemption from HIV care coverage on religious grounds, as the virus remains highly stigmatized.

Justice Kennedy, though making arguments for both sides throughout the oral arguments, questioned if religion of the employers trumps employee’s religious views that may not be the same. Ultimately, Justice Kennedy emerged as the likely deciding vote.

To read the transcript of Tuesday’s arguments, click here. An audio recording of the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. hearing is posted here.

Sources:

http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/03/argument-recap-one-hearing-two-dramas/#more-206840

http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/03/argument-preview-religion-rights-and-the-workplace/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/can-corporations-exercise-religious-rights/

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

Priya
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.

Can the Black Community Really Become an AIDS-Free Generation? What National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Means To Me

M. Hill headshot

By Marjorie J. Hill, Ph.D, AIDS United Board of Directors

It was the summer of 1982. AIDS was quickly becoming the scourge of the gay community. It was a time of ignorance, mass panic and fear. Government, faith leaders and too often, family members turned their back on the affected individuals.

The first person I knew diagnosed with GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was my college buddy Lorraine. Not the “face” of AIDS at that time, Lorraine was a black heterosexual woman. There was no treatment, no hope and about three months post her diagnosis, Lorraine died.

Much has transpired since 1983. Medical advancements have transformed HIV/AIDS from an almost always fatal disease, to a challenging but manageable diagnosis. We even dare to dream, to articulate the vision of an AIDS-free generation. As we approach NBHAAD, I pose the question if this vision is a possibility – especially in the black community.

Black Americans constitute 13% of the United States population but represent 50% of the new HIV/AIDS cases. The rate of new infections among blacks is close to seven times the rate among whites. Black women account for over two-thirds of the new AIDS cases among women. Black gay and bisexual men are 55 to 75 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than heterosexual men. Compared with whites, blacks also experience higher rates of HIV mortality.

These are sobering facts that are confounded by social determinants such as racism, poverty, homophobia, gender bias and stigma. Nonetheless I am persuaded that an AIDS-free goal is not only within our reach as a public health goal — but a compelling moral goalpost. This is especially true given the HIV/AIDS challenges faced by the black community.

Oddly enough, the first step to achieving this vision is in fact the very premise upon which NBHAAD is built. Everyone should be knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS in general and should know their own HIV status. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy goal to increase and speed connection to care must be adopted as a national public health mandate. All HIV-positive persons should have access to medical, social and community support. Homophobia and gender bias must be confronted as progenitors of HIV infection. This can only be achieved if all segments of society partner together.

Unlike 1983, we now have the science and technology to reverse the tide. While 30 years too late for my friend, Lorraine, achieving an AIDS-free generation is most definitely a possibility. For many years NBHAAD has been for me a day of interesting awareness events, inspiring speeches and of course, many new HIV tests. All important and all good…but what does NBHAAD mean to me this year?

Let’s make 2014 a day of activism, a day of commitment and a day of hope. It can be the day we really pave the road to an AIDS-free generation.