By Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist
The faces of folks at conventions blur quickly in time’s fast moving fog.
But I’ll never forget the distinguished, full-of-life face of an older man who stood at a breakfast on HIV/AIDS this month at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Tampa, Fla. He was tall and neatly dressed in a suit, white shirt and red tie.
Without any prompting from the panelists, the man said he has HIV. He gave a face to the always sensitive discussion of how the epidemic is affecting African Americans.
“Nobody is proud of what they have,” said the man, who speaks often about the disease, which is devastating the black community. “But you have to live with what you have.”
He explained to the panel, which applauded him, that he is working with the NAACP to combat HIV/AIDS.
Robert E. Bailey II, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that for the first time in years the agency has begun a campaign against AIDS. It started in April.
“Act Against AIDS” is a five-year, $10 million effort that partners with 14 black organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Medical Association, the National Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Roundtable discussions on AIDS started in June in Washington, D.C. In addition to the program at the convention, nine other events are planned in such cities as Houston, Miami, New York and Chicago to make people more aware of the dangers of the disease.
“We know that at the end of the day, HIV is 100 percent preventable,” Bailey said.
The Rev. Eric D. Williams, executive director of the Calvary Community Outreach Network in Kansas City, applauded the CDC effort but said AIDS isn’t restricted to one part of the population.
“I think it should be included in the health care debate,” Williams said. “We keep hearing there is an emergency, but resources never follow the call for an emergency.”
Bailey, the CDC’s team leader of the HIV/AIDS Prevention National Partnership Team, shared some disturbing data, which a lot of people prefer not to know.
More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. today. One in five is unaware of being infected. About 56,000 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year, or one person every 9½ minutes.
More than 14,000 people a year die with AIDS. Men make up about three-quarters of the people living with AIDS as well as those who are newly infected.
But what Bailey and other panelists stressed was how the disease was ravaging the black community nationwide. Blacks constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population; however, they make up 46 percent of the people living with HIV and 45 percent of the new HIV infections estimated in 2006.
A disproportionate number of Hispanics also have HIV/AIDS. Bailey said people shouldn’t fear the numbers. They’re meant to get people to become more aware and take the needed precautions.
Kai Wright, publications editor with the Black AIDS Institute, encouraged people to learn the facts about AIDS such as untreated sexually transmitted diseases’ increasing people’s chances of getting HIV. Too many myths — such as people thinking AIDS is just a white male homosexual disease or a problem in Africa — allow the disease to spread.
Low self-esteem also contributes to people having unprotected sex, which puts them at risk for HIV/AIDS. People who fear being alone the rest of their lives will do risky things, Wright said.
Bailey said it boils down to what value society places on each human being’s life.
People are encouraged to get tested so they are aware of their HIV status. More folks with HIV like the man at the conference should join groups that are fighting the disease and speak out about it. Wright said, “What is most important is that we are informed.”
I’ve lost friends and relatives to HIV/AIDS. It’s long past time for the senseless losses to end.
Lewis W. Diuguid is a? member of The Star’s Editorial Board. To reach him, call ?816-234-4723 or send e-mail to eval(unescape('%64%6f%63%75%6d%65%6e%74%2e%77%72%69%74%65%28%27%3c%61%20%68%72%65%66%3d%22%6d%61%69%6c%74%6f%3a%4c%64%69%75%67%75%69%64%40%6b%63%73%74%61%72%2e%63%6f%6d%22%3e%4c%64%69%75%67%75%69%64%40%6b%63%73%74%61%72%2e%63%6f%6d%3c%2f%61%3e%27%29%3b'))Ldiuguid@kcstar.com