Friday, February 7, 2014

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Is About Action

By Ceasar Montoya


National Black AIDS Awareness Day is today, February 7th.  Are you aware of this date? It’s the same every year.  Similar to other AIDS awareness days, it is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and a leadership committee. The day is set aside to promote HIV awareness in communities across the U.S. So what does promoting awareness really mean, and why is it so important?  National Black AIDS Awareness Day provides opportunities for HIV testing, knowledge sharing, and spreading awareness about the disease in community friendly environments. According to the National Black AIDS Awareness Day website, the day is focused on getting educated, getting tested, getting involved and getting treated.

Getting Treated


I am a Linkage to Care Coordinator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Linkage to Care can mean a variety of things, depending on the setting.  For the purpose of this discussion, I am talking about linking those who are HIV positive to health care services; connecting those who are either newly diagnosed with HIV or who may have dropped out of care and need assistance reengaging health care services.

So why focus so much on treatment when it seems so straight forward? A very good question.  Linking people who are HIV positive to health care services is one of the biggest challenges, but also one of the most important goals of HIV prevention.  So why don’t people just get themselves to the care they need?  There can be a multitude of reasons: lack of transportation to and from appointments, lack of insurance, lack of support from friends and family, fear and stigma.

That is why linkage to care is so important.  Along with many other resources including case management organizations, health care providers, mental health providers and substance abuse services we can overcome obstacles that prevent people from accessing health care services.  Using these resources can help keep you healthy!  In today’s world of HIV care, an HIV positive individual may, themselves, be the biggest barrier that exists in accessing health care services.  We are often our own worst enemy.  But they are not alone in their struggle. Though their experience and journey is unique, together we can work to keep them healthy.

Community 


The word community is often tossed around like a bean bag; community this and community that.  But, the very strength that community provides can actually work against those who are fighting HIV. Communities of color are very close knit.  Everybody seems to know everyone. We know when little Jeff down the road graduates high school, and we grieve when a neighborhood elder passes away.  But this closeness can be an obstacle manifested as fear or stigma when we are dealing with something like HIV/AIDS.  And the aforementioned stigma can be one of the most difficult barriers to overcome.

I’m not going to include any data. We know the numbers. For many of us this is not new. If it is for you, please see the CDC’s website where you can find a bevy of statistics, or see the Health Resources and Services Administration for information on viral load suppression and healthy people living with HIV.

But, this is not about the numbers; we know that Black and Latino Communities are second only to the men who have sex with men population for being most impacted by HIV/AIDS. We can no longer focus on numbers alone. It is our collective responsibility to do our part to take on stigma and fear, and in light of that responsibility I ask you to take a pledge.  Pledge to no longer judge your brother or sister because they are living with HIV/AIDS.  HIV AIDS does not care what color your skin is or how much money you make, or where you live.  Pledge to help others dispel myths and to eliminate this barrier we call stigma as a means of keeping someone from achieving a long, healthy life.

For more information on HIV and AIDS in the black community check out these pages:

Brother Jeff - Events
It Takes A Village - Programs 
Colorado Black Health Collaborative


For more information about the Department’s HIV Linkage to Care services, contact Ceasar Montoya at ceasarmontoya@state.co.us or Maria Chaidez at maria.chaidez@state.co.us .

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