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Terry Manning

Dec. 1 can be just another day 

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Thursday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day for 2022. 

A handful of people stopped reading at the end of that sentence. They don’t care about AIDS or HIV because in their minds it is “gay stuff,” and they don’t want to hear about any more “gay stuff.” 

That’s one reason this is the 35th year World AIDS Day is being observed. 

Too many people think it’s “gay stuff,” or that it’s a health issue more prevalent in demographic groups to which they don’t belong. They decide it’s an issue they don’t want — or need — to hear about, when the truth is, if they really want to stop hearing about HIV/AIDS, we already have the means to eradicate it, if only more people cared and supported effective action. 

In the United States, nearly 1.2 million people are living with HIV, according to HIV. gov. The website estimates nearly 13 percent have it but don’t know because they have not been tested. New infections dropped 8 percent from 2015 to 2019, with an even larger 17 percent drop from 2019-2020. Experts attribute the latter drop to COVID-19, but rates actually increased among younger Americans. 

People aged 13 to 34 accounted for 57 percent of new cases in the U.S. in 2020; those aged 25 to 34 comprised 27 percent. 

As of December 2020, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) put the number of people in South Carolina diagnosed with HIV (including AIDS) at approximately 19,437: 14,018 men and 5,419 women. Most of these people (9,895) are over the age of 50 years. Among new infections, though, 38 percent were aged 20-29 and 25 percent 30-39. Five percent were younger than 20. 

What can we glean from these numbers? Probably that after 40-plus years of HIV and AIDS being a widely known public health issue, we are failing to imbue young people with enough information to protect themselves. 

Across the country, we’re still fighting battles over providing young people methods for practicing safer sexual activity. One side promises literal warfare over birth control and ideology, while the other emphasizes personal freedoms, such as the right to choose how to respond to unwanted pregnancies. In the meantime, the simpler message gets lost that these methods also can ward off sexually transmitted diseases. 

Some look at the literal faces of the pandemic and conclude they have no need to care. 

African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos continue to make up the majority of new diagnoses nationally at 42 and 27 percent respectively, despite being 12 and 19 percent of the total U.S. population. 

In South Carolina, the numbers for its Black residents are more pronounced, with African Americans making up 62 percent of new cases in the Palmetto State. That’s not uncommon for southern states. 

In fact, the South is where 51 percent of new diagnoses were made in the U.S. in 2020. Some folks here like to point fingers at their northern counterparts, especially areas where Democrats have political power, but the Northeast and Midwest region fall far behind the former states of the Confederacy in rates of HIV. 

Musician Elton John wrote in The Atlantic in 2018 about how racism and geography have worked hand-in-hand to boost the persistence of HIV: 

“Persistent structural inequities in economic opportunity, education, and housing disproportionately expose Black families … And a lack of representation, combined with a painful history of racism in medicine, has undermined the Black community’s trust in health-care systems and made people less likely to seek care.” 

He concluded, “We can achieve an AIDS-free generation in America,” but not without facing head-on the biases and stigmas that have left African Americans and other marginalized communities more susceptible to various health threats. 

There are drugs to prevent infection and drugs that can reduce the amount of virus in those infected to the point the risk of transmission is effectively zero. In 35 states, though, it still is a crime — tantamount to attempted murder — for an HIV-positive person to have sex with another person without disclosing their status. 

I would wager an HIV-positive person in treatment likely is a safer sex partner than someone who has no idea what their status is with HIV or any other STD. But hey, HIV is bad, so the people who have it must be bad too, right? 

That’s because we keep thinking of it and talking about it like it’s “gay stuff,” when in actuality it has no respect for the labels we use to differentiate ourselves. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, Black, Hispanic/ Latino, Asian, white, cisgender, transgender, liberal, conservative, none of these matter as much as the fact we can eliminate HIV from all our lives if we just show the will to engage. 

Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com. 

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