Written by R. D. Balsa Friday, 06 January 2012 00:00
Early last month we observed World AIDS Day. I took the time to read several of the hundreds of articles inspired by this annual event. I was a middle-schooler when this virus changed the world and sex as we know it. At the time we were subjected to documentaries, Health class lectures, movies, pamphlets and every other type of informative media which literally scared us “straight”. My generation was there for the inception of HIV and our inevitable fear resulted in borderline obsessive care during sex. However, the more I read the more I realized how poorly informed I was about its current status and how much this modern day plague has changed in its thirty years.
The gist of it is this: HIV is now a “controllable” problem for industrialized countries (the U.S. in particular), a growing problem for most Asian countries, and a catastrophe for sub Saharan Africa where over 22 million persons are currently believed to be infected. According to aids.gov, every nine and a half minutes, someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV. Sadly, one in five of those infected is unaware that he/she is infected. It is obvious that we are in the midst of a second wave of this disease. Much of it, I imagine, is due to the fact that today we rarely hear of a person dying of AIDS. Relatively easy access to a variety of powerful drugs has made it possible to live a lengthy and reasonably normal life with the virus. This has no doubt resulted in a laid back, apathetic attitude about the virus and how it's contracted.
Still, as Tip O'Neill once famously observed, “all politics is local” so it was the statistics about the Latino community that struck the loudest chord with me. It seems that Latinos are “disproportionally impacted” in that although we represent only 15% of the U.S. population, we account for an astounding 17% of the people living HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, HIV infections among Latino men are more than double that of white men. These statistics angered me because numbers this shocking can only be the result of a people who are woefully uneducated about this particular subject. Once again the stereotype that Latinos lack education and formality and are somehow primitive in their outlook rings true. As an educated Latino, and as one whose life is populated predominantly by other educated Latinos, it pains me to see a deficiency in education result in something that can shorten thousands of lives. Where is the divide? How then do we do we reverse this gruesome trend? How do we make the next generation understand that a “normal” life with HIV is also marked by a lifetime of medication, often unbearable side-effects, limited access to sexual and life partners, rejection and/or judgment at every corner? The answer is a rather complicated and diverse one, but I believe it all begins and ends with my generation (late-thirties, early forties). As the generation that first witnessed this disease's reach, scope and devastation, the responsibility to educate lies on our collective shoulders. If you aren't a part of the many non-profit organizations out there that are making a difference in our community, I encourage you to join one. There are several out there like Pridelines Youth Services, Latinos Salud and Safe Schools South Florida that are working to spread the word on the latest with sexually transmitted diseases, empower the younger generations and promote an overall healthy life. Share your time and your experiences. Communication may not be a cure, but it's a start.
© 2011 by R. D. Balsa. All Rights Reserved.