While the global community is undertaking initiatives in the areas of scientific development, healthcare and universal access and community organizing in the name of HIV prevention, we must do our own part to be the change that we wish to see in our own lives and around the world.
“World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988 (via www.worldaidsday.org).”
In your own spheres of influence, don’t shy away from having conversations about HIV, how it is transmitted, and what measures we can take to prevent transmission. Even in the US, stigma and shame still surround HIV, so it is vital that we play our role in continuing to bring the discussion into public spheres while doing what we can to combat the perceptions that feed into the marginalization of individuals with HIV. You can read a few quick facts about HIV here.
The conversations may not always be easy, but we must educate our youth about HIV and its transmission. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS; Only 1 in 3 young people have full knowledge of how HIV is transmitted. Young people between the ages of 15-24 account for 40% of all new infections. And Christians cannot try to convince themselves that this is some type of problem just for ‘those people’ outside their faith when it comes to sex. While I did not see any statistics regarding rates of HIV in relation to religious background, a recent article in Relevant Magazine (issue 53) cited research (from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy) which found that 80% of young, unmarried Christians have had sex. Out of that percentage, 64% of them have had sex in the last year. Even though many of them are having sex, 76% of evangelicals polled in the study believe that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. While having discussions about abstinence, we cannot fail to acknowledge the reality of the world that our youth are living in and equip them with the knowledge to make smart decisions and to take cautionary measures. I support Christian ideals of chastity, but also believe that we must prepare ourselves and others as the world may not function according to ideals of perfection like we would prefer it to. Staying in touch with, acknowledging and communicating reality in relation to sexual activity and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) does not compromise ideals but rather helps our youth to be aware and function in the world as it actually exists.
And if we engage in sexual relations with another person and do not have absolute certainty about and proof of their status in relation to HIV and other STIs, we must GET TESTED not only for our own health but in the name of prevention of transmitting HIV to another individual. The only shame is in not getting tested and not knowing your status.
If you happen to be in Chicago, the Chicago Department of Public Health offers free, anonymous and confidential HIV testing at the locations listed here. If you are in another city, internet search engines do wonders in locating resources and testing sites. Encourage your friends and family members to get tested and if they are open to it or would like someone to accompany them, go with them.