For New Pittsburgh Courier
HIV/AIDS continues to be a pandemic. The infectious disease first came to light in the early 1980s.
The Centers for Disease Control released an article in 1981 about young gay men who had what was then referred to as just an “infection,” but later it was pinpointed as acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS.
For a long time AIDS was associated only with the homosexual community. However, that has changed because the groups affected with HIV/AIDS have changed.
“I truly believe we’ve garnered new support this evening for our efforts at Educating Teens About HIV-AIDS Incorporated. We’re just truly happy to have had such a wonderful audience with young people and everyone in between, elderly people as well. We were really blessed this evening to raise awareness, to raise funds to support our programming. We’re inspired.”
Those words were from Kezia Ellison, president and founder of the organization, Educating Teens About HIV/AIDS Incorporated.
Her group held its eighth annual Red Ribbon Gala in observance of World Aids Day, on Dec. 1, at the Omni William Penn Hotel Downtown.
The theme of World Aids Day was “Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation.”
The number of teenagers with the disease is distressing. The Center for AIDS Research, Education & Services found that in 2006 teen girls made up 39 percent of AIDS cases reported among 13 to 19 year-olds. The number for Black teens in the same age group was an astounding 69 percent.
Blacks overall represent approximately 14 percent of the population in the United States, but accounted for an estimated 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2009.
ETAH presented two Red Ribbon Awards to individuals who have made various contributions to their organization and the community at large. One award was given to Rod Doss, Editor and Publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier.
Doss reminded everyone, when accepting his award, about the importance of HIV testing. He said there is particular concern about what is happening with HIV among young Black men and bi-sexual men.
“They account for 39 percent of all new infections among youth and more than half of new infections among young men who have sex with men. And because many of the newly infected gay or bi-sexual males are just beginning to explore their sexuality, stigma and homophobia are making HIV testing and treatment far more challenging. In other words, too few young people are getting tested.” Doss said.
A second award was given to Dr. Marian G. Michaels, professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. While Michaels applauded the strides that have been made in the area of treating pregnant women with HIV/AIDS, there was something she strongly stressed.
“With the medicines that we have available to us today no child in this country should be born with HIV. And when a failure happens, it is a failure on our part.” Michaels said.
Shelia Taylor is a success story of a woman with HIV raising a young child. The disease has been her constant companion for 15 years.
“I take medication on a daily basis. It works. It’s good. I don’t like taking the medication. But, I do,“ she said.
She talked candidly about her struggle as her daughter, Precious Davis, sat beside her. Precious is 11 years old and HIV negative.
“I was four years positive when I found out that I was pregnant with Precious. I went over to the clinic and I said ‘Hey something is going on with this medication.’ And I told them all the symptoms that it gave me. They said let me test you to see if you’re pregnant. Well, I was like I cannot be pregnant. My tubes are tied. “
Taylor admitted that she was scared when she found out that she was going to have a child because she didn’t want her child to be HIV positive. She said her circumstance has made her want to help other people because so many are living with this disease alone. So, it’s fitting that she works as an HIV/AIDS advocate at East Liberty Family Healthcare Center.
Another person at the dinner who had a heart wrenching story to tell about HIV/AIDS was Gertrude Matshe, CEO of the Africa Alive Foundation.
“My foundation looks after AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe, which is where I’m from. AIDS has wiped out people of my generation in Africa. Our life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 34 if you’re female, 37 if you’re male. My grandmother had 11 children. She had 34 grandchildren. 19 of us have died of AIDS. So the children I look after are my cousin’s children; 49 kids on my side of the family and another 40 on my husband’s side.”
Matshe, a Rooney Scholar at Robert Morris University, detailed her life journey in her book, “Born on the Continent.” She believes AIDS is a very psychological disease.
“There’s a lot of stigma around it. People don’t want to talk about it. One of the main reasons it’s spreading is because we’re not having a dialogue around AIDS. People are scared to discuss their status. So what I’m trying to do is to bring people’s awareness to how difficult it is to share that you are HIV positive. People are stigmatized and the more we bring it into the public domain and make it a conversation and a dialogue we can destigmatize it.” Matshe said.
(Find out more about ETAH at www.educatingteens.org.)