The month of December has been HIV/AIDS Awareness Month for the last decade with goals of the month being the promotion of testing and a focus on events that highlight the personal and social issues involved with HIV/AIDS. The month is kicked off with World AIDS Day (#wad2010) on December 1st.
First, it is important to know that the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Not everyone that has HIV has or will get AIDS. HIV can lead to AIDS which is a immune system disease that makes a person vulnerable to life-threatening opportunistic infections.
According to the CDC, as of 2006 there were an estimated 1,106,400 persons in the US living with HIV and about 56,300 Americans became infected. Gay and bisexual men account for 53% of new infections even though we are estimated to be only around 4% of the population. Almost half of the new infections are in black men. Infection rates vary by location but, one in five men who have sex with men, in 21 major cities in the US, were infected with HIV and 44% of these men were unaware of their infection.
But the news is not all bad. There have been significant advances in research this year that give hope and several efforts are underway that show HIV may be preventable. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) options are showing promise and research on Rectal Microbicides (in the form of a cream or gel) are well underway. There has also been research that implies that an undetectable viral load may make it difficult to pass on HIV to an HIV negative partner.
But do not be confused, HIV is still very real and someone in the US is infected every 9 ½ minutes and there is about a 53% chance it is a gay or bisexual man.
HIV is a real infection, but those who have been infected are real human beings. HIV-Positive men are no different then you or I. Unless you have practiced safer sex every time you have had oral, anal, or vaginal sex, you have most likely done nothing different then those that are HIV positive today.
HIV Awareness Month is a great time to get tested, recommit to sexual health and safer sex practices, and remember that those with HIV are not only dealing with complex issues regarding their health but they are often the victims of discrimination and stigma within our own community.
It is important to realize and behave from the realization that often, the only difference between an HIV positive man and an HIV negative man is as little as the ‘luck of the draw’. Gay men have enough discrimination to deal with without the additional burdens of HIV stigma, a burden that is often fueled by unjustified self-righteousness.