The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS keeps many people from getting tested, asking a partner about his status or insisting on safer sex practices.
To combat the fear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched Let’s Stop HIV Together, a national campaign featuring people from all walks of life, including singer Jamar Rogers, who are HIV-positive and willing to share their personal stories and call on others to take charge of their health and prevent the spread of the disease.
“Stigma really is an insidious opponent in the fight against HIV,” Dr. Donna McCree, associate director of the Health Equity Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the CDC, told BlackAmericaWeb.com
“For people who are at risk, the stigma is more likely to make them not use condoms, make them not seek treatment and care,” McCree said.
Additionally, McCree said, advances in HIV/AIDS treatment has led to apathy among many people who believe that HIV/AIDS has largely been contained and is no longer the life threatening illness it once was.
“HIV is far from over,” McCree said, noting that there are 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, 50,000 new infections annually and that an estimated one out of five people who are infected don’t know because they have not been tested and diagnosed.
According to the federal Office of Minority Health, black Americans accounted for 46 percent of all HIV infections cases diagnosed in 2010. African-American men were 9.5 times more likely to die of AIDS than non-Hispanic white men. African-American women are particularly struck by this disease, and are almost 20 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS, as compared to white women. AIDS is the third leading cause of death in African-American women aged 35-44 and the third leading cause of death in African-American men, aged 35-44, in 2009.
A 2011 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the percentage of Americans who said they had seen or read “some” or “a lot” about HIV had fallen from 70 percent in 2004 to just 40 percent in 2011. The percentage of Americans who said AIDS was the nation’s most pressing health problem fell from 21 percent to 7 percent during the same period, according to the survey.
Rogers, who was a semifinalist on the televised singing competition “The Voice,” became infected with HIV after running away from home during a period of heavy drug use. He didn’t learn that he was HIV-positive until he fell ill with related infections.
After his diagnosis, he reconciled with his mother and focused on getting and staying healthy and building his music career. Today he is using his newfound fame to raise awareness of HIV.
Hydeia Broadbent was infected with HIV at birth but was not diagnosed until age 3 and her doctors didn’t think she would live past age 5. She appeared on a Nickelodeon special with Magic Johnson, shortly after the former NBA star announced he was HIV-positive.
But the attention didn’t guarantee acceptance for Broadbent. A boyfriend left her because he was unable to cope with her HIV status. She now works to educate young people about the dangers of the stigma, the risks of HIV infection and the realities of living with the disease.
The campaign will encompass national and local advertising, social media, a Let’s Stop HIV Together website and posters, postcards and brochures that will be distributed by local public health agencies, businesses and community-based organizations.
It is part of CDC’s five-year, national communications campaign to combat complacency about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“People with HIV are part of the fabric of our families. They are part of the fabric of our lives,” McCree said. “HIV doesn’t affect just one particular group; it affects every corner of our society.”