DON LEMON: Somber Anniversary – HIV Turns 30

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    We mark an anniversary this week that no one wants to celebrate.

    It has been 30 years since scientists identified HIV or human immunodeficiency virus as the cause of AIDS.

    In that time, we have all lived in fear of catching it, living with it, being stigmatized by it, and then dying from it.

    I, like many others hearing or reading these words, remember the early 1980’s when people, mostly gay men, were getting sick and dying from a mysterious flu-like ailment.

    Medical experts were perplexed.

    The average person was even more flummoxed.

    It was 1984.

    I was a senior in high school.

    One month before my graduation, April 23rd, the discovery was made and announced at a press conference by the then Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heclker alongside scientist Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute.

    Before researchers figured out that it was HIV that caused AIDS gay men were demonized, feared, and ostracized.

    It remained that way for quite some time after, maybe even to this day.

    It wasn’t until HIV and AIDS began to show up in straight people that the stigma began to subside.

    It wasn’t until people like Magic Johnson revealed their HIV positive status that others began to realize that it wasn’t just a gay disease and more importantly that it shouldn’t have to be a death sentence for anyone.

    But 30 years later some people still aren’t getting the message.

    Some young people who didn’t live through those frightening days aren’t getting it.

    Some of them aren’t having safe sex.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than half of all undiagnosed HIV infections are youth ages 13 to 24.

    The other group of people who isn’t getting it is African Americans.

    According to the CDC African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.

    The rate of new HIV infection in African Americans is 8 times that of whites based on population size.

    If Black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for new HIV infections.

    Many of us did not learn from Magic, a black man who was one of the first to be honest with himself and the world.

    The Tom Joyner Foundation raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to fund HIV and AIDS awareness.

    On this show and others he promotes knowing your HIV status.

    It’s time we follow Tom and Magic’s lead.

    So on this solemn anniversary there is no more fitting way to mark it than by getting tested this week.

    You could save your life and someone else’s.

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