FIT: Americans not taking HIV seriously enough

FIT MAGAZINE The impetus for this month's FIT magazine is my upcoming trip to Africa.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

FIT MAGAZINE

The impetus for this month's FIT magazine is my upcoming trip to Africa.

I have been writing a series of stories for the Toledo Free Press about Tanga, which is Toledo's sister city, and will continue the series live from Africa when I leave on June 28.

As I have prepared for this trip, I have studied the city, country and continent, and the rampant HIV and AIDS problem cannot be ignored.

The Tanzania National Web site reveals just how severe the problem has become:

"The first cases of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania were reported in 1983, although for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the problem began tosurface in the late 1970s," the Web site stated.

"The epidemic has evolved from being rare and [a] new disease to a common household problem, which has affected most Tanzania families."

The cover of FIT magazine is inspired by efforts to help Africans. (RED)'s objective is to raise awareness and funds for The Global Fund and to help eliminate AIDS in Africa, according to its Web site.

Companies whose products take on the (PRODUCT)RED markcontribute a percentage of the sales or portion of the profits to The Global Fund to finance AIDSprograms in Africa.

All these efforts for Africa, made me wonder about the state of HIV/AIDS in America.

When I was in grade school, it seemed like we had a lesson with a guest speaker every year aboutHIV/AIDS. How can you get it? Unprotected sex with an infected partner. Can kissing spread the disease? No, don't be silly. Is there a cure? Not yet.

But with the advances inmedicine, it seems like the attention paid to HIV/AIDS has diminished. Those infected are living longer and longer, and if you were to name some of the more prevalent health campaigns, breast cancer, autism and heart disease would definitely make my list. HIV/AIDS would not.

Finding a person with HIV to interview for this issue was not easy. The doctor who helped me find a local woman told me that nobody wanted to use their name or get their picture taken.

The person I eventually talked to also asked for me to exclude any identifying factors like her specific hometown and her age.

Only a few close friends know she is HIV-positive, she said, including her ex-husband who infected her because of what she called hisprevious "swinging lifestyle."

They were already divorced when a blood test revealed she was an HIV carrier. She had had a blood test to see if she could be a donor for a surgery.

Again, saying any more might make a person in her family think this column is about her, she said.

"It was just really surprising because I wasn't in a high-risk group," she said.

"I have never been a lesbian, a swinger or a needle pusher ... it wasn't even a thought in my mind. It was hard for the doctor to even tell me."

She's in her 30s and hasn't even told her son. She doesn't want to worry him because he has his own health problems and there's nothing he can do.

She is on medication to prevent it from becoming full-blown AIDS. Her meds cause night terrors and chronic fatigue, which have cost her job after job.

"It is a very private thing. It is not something you blurt out when you first meet someone," she said. "It is always there. It is always in your mind. You might forget about it because you are busy, and then it will hit you again."

She said it seems like everything is about breast cancer these days, which is equally as important as HIV/AIDS.

"It is a not a gay issue, you can walk the straight and narrow and this could come to you," she said.

She tries to remain upbeat, but worries that sharing her HIV status would cause discrimination.

"It is such a small area and there are so many ignorant people in the world," she said.