June 25, 2008

AIDS

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day.  Businesses and community centers around Wisconsin will offer free testing for HIV/AIDS, as well as for other STDs.  Milwaukee residents can visit the YMCA at North and Teutonia Avenues from 10:00a-2:00p for free screenings and informational packets.  The whole process only takes a few minutes, but it can mean a world of difference.

Just ask any of the almost 3,000 Milwaukee residents currently living with HIV/AIDS.  Ask them what it’s like to fight, every day, against one of history’s most pronounced and fatal diseases.  Ask them to tell you about the stigma they encounter because of HIV/AIDS.  And, then, ask them if they’d understood the risks of the disease before contracting it.  Most answers to these questions are shocking reminders of just how pervasive HIV/AIDS is in our own communities.

Some Milwaukee residents are surprised that so many people around them have HIV/AIDS because, to them, AIDS is a disease for developing countries—places in sub-Saharan Africa, India, or China.  They’ve grown up thinking that, to the extent that AIDS is a problem in America, its effects are confined to drug addicts and other communities outside the mainstream of society.

A look at the facts shows just how wrong those assumptions are.  It’s race that has the highest correlation with new cases of HIV/AIDS.  Across the United States, 54% of new cases occur among African Americans, and 64% of new infections in women occur in African American women.  In Wisconsin the statistics are even worse: 74% of all women with HIV are minorities. 

Age is a factor, too, with half of new infections occurring in people under 25 years of age.  And, of all Wisconsin teens with HIV, 63% are African American.  The point is that, of the hundreds of new HIV cases diagnosed in Milwaukee last year, there’s no pattern fitting conventional stereotypes about AIDS in America.  The data shows, time and again, that no demographic is safe from the ravages of AIDS, not even in the most developed nation in the world.

AIDS is a real threat in America, whether we recognize it or not.  And the number one cause of new HIV/AIDS infections here isn’t contaminated needles or illicit behavior; it’s that people don’t realize they’re HIV positive.  A person can have HIV and not show any physical signs of it for years.  A very lucky few go there whole lives without symptoms.

That’s why it’s so important to take every opportunity to get tested.  Especially when there’s no charge involved, there’s no downside.  So stop by the Milwaukee YMCA this Friday and get checked out.  You’ve got nothing left to lose, and everything to gain.