December in USA is HIV/AIDS awareness month since 12.01.1988. As I sit down to write about HIV AIDS in 2019, I am reminded of the year 1998. This is the first time I got to know personally someone who died of AIDS. First it was a Church woman, then her husband followed. Both were actively involved in the local Church. As if that was not enough, my friend died, an extended family member, and a classmate got sick. At this time, the debate about AIDS was going on all over the world. But now it was no longer a debate. It had hit too close to home.
In the years that followed (may be from around 2003), I heard Dr. Penny Njoroge teach workshops during KCFA ladies conferences and retreats. In her gentle voice, she kept repeating, “AIDS is happening all around us.
You are either infected or affected. You know someone…it is important to get tested.” Women then argued how Christians are righteous and upright and how they should not be tested. A woman called me one day and told me, Hi Rev!! I have been separated from my husband for three years. He has been living in Kenya. He has just joined me and we didn’t get tested…we just slept together like before. To which I replied, “Well, my Sister. That is fine. You can wait for the next 15 years and we can talk again.”
Resolutions: January of 2019 came to us with so much hope and promise. I trust that one of the goals individuals made was of having good health and following up with regular medical examinations or physicals as we call them. Good health should always top the list of every new year resolutions. Everything we are, aspire to be and ever hope to become can be short changed by a chronic sickness like AIDS. Perhaps this might be a good time to revisit being tested for AIDS in the hopes that one of your 2020 resolution will be to be tested.
PEOPLE WITH AIDS ARE LIVING TO AGE 50+
Who does this involve? If you are sexually active and you have been alive since AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) became known as a disease in the early 1980s, you might want to consider being tested. If you have been separated from your legal spouse for a prolonged period of time, I call this Married in Kenya Living Single in US (MKLS&US) and vice verse. If you are engaged and planning to get married, you should be tested. Regardless of your religious background, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity , gender or age, your tribe or immigration status; if you have not done so, consider being tested.
What is HIV? HIV is a Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS. To date there is no cure for AIDS, but there is treatment. With treatment, people are living longer well into age 50+ years. After being diagnosed with AIDS and following treatment, the quality of life for many has improved. You should be tested because you are worth it. You are worth more than any goods, services or property. You are UNIQUE. In all the world, there is no one else who is exactly like you (Paraphrased from a quote by the American Author & Family Therapist, Virginia Satir). You are worth it because you are wonderfully and marvelously created.
Why Get Tested? Because you may have HIV and not know it. Signs can take up to 6 months to be detected in your blood. You may not feel sick, still you can pass HIV to other sexual partners. This includes a pregnant mama because she can pass the virus to the unborn toto (child). Get tested because you cannot tell by looking at a person that they have HIV. Since the 1980s, a lot has changed. Africans are more quiet about AIDS.
In the meantime young people and adults continue to be diagnosed and others die in our midst. We look for answers all over the place. Since our people can be culturally trusted with keeping secrets, due to stigma attached, the families once they get to know that a loved one died because of AIDS or has contracted the disease; they in turn keep it as a secret. Am thinking that sometimes these secrets are the ones that harm families and community the most. Example: To keep a secret or to tell? Select who to tell.Of course, don’t be like the homeless woman in Marietta who told everyone in the Church that she had AIDS. When Church was over, she was left outside in the cold. No one would give her a ride nor take them into their homes.
The doors closed and everyone went home. It was one of the coldest nights in GA. As we were leaving, I noticed this Believer hanging around and I stopped to talk to her. We had spent the whole afternoon in the Church and I recognized her. So I asked her, “Are you waiting for your ride.” She surprised me by disclosing that she was homeless and she had AIDS. Together we called every shelter in greater ATL area. Some didn’t even answer…they had automated voice mails. To this day, they have not returned my calls. It turned out that all the shelters in the neighborhood, Motels that accept vouchers and all the way to downtown ATL, they had closed by 5pm.
I offered her a ride to S.GA where there might be shelter or I could keep her in my house for a few days. She told me she wanted to live in the city. Sawa sawa then.
This is what I told her, “Ok, do me a favor, from now on, you don’t tell your business to anyone. Don’t introduce yourself like that, your name followed by homeless and you have AIDS because nobody will accept to help you.
You can tell that to the Doctor or Social worker, and to your family. ” Some things are better left unsaid, or shared with the right secret keepers. Notice I am not saying don’t tell. Rather, select who you can give important information especially because they will know how to help, or have resources to. We gave her a ride to the Gas Station where she stationed herself in a corner for the night. She was a beautiful lady and very kind. She offered to buy me water.
How does it happen? HIV is passed through body fluids during sex, sharing needles for those who shoot drugs, piercing body parts to make tattoos, before and during birth and during breastfeeding. There are rare incidences that AIDS is as a result of blood transfusion. In recent years, donated blood is tested.
Protect yourself: Don’t have sex before marriage, practice abstinence, flee sexual immorality, avoid intimacy with people with bleeding gums, or open wounds. Use protection for all sexual acts (mouth, oral, anus). Please Don’t act so shocked. Your children in Middle School in USA like 8-12th Grade most likely have already received this education in their school. Use condoms, including Ladies/carry them too. Have the lights on so that you can see the body (sores, wounds, bleeding, scars) if you see something, stay away and make sure your partner is tested and receiving treatment). Remember even condoms are not 100% safe. Stay away from alcohol and drugs. When you are under the influence of chemicals, it is easy to put yourself in a compromising situation. If you say away from these things, then you do need to keep your Christian faith, family values and principles that many call old fashioned.
How about blood transfusion during surgery? If you know you have planned elective surgery, you can donate and save your blood in advance. Make arrangements with the hospital. Relatives can also help contribute. If you don’t use it, you can donate it. There is nothing wrong in preparing ahead. We have to throw away through the window our African superstition and myths. In cases of emergency, trust the system.
What types of tests should one take? Know the difference tests. (1) Confidential HIV Tests – the results become part of your medical record. You have Patient/Doctor privileges. Even when a patient dies, it is possible for the family NOT TO KNOW. (2) Anonymous HIV Tests: This is where you NEVER give your name to anyone during the test. You give a number…only you will know the results. It usually takes 2-3 weeks or less to get the results. To get the results, you make an appointment with your PCP or Health Department.
What is the meaning of the Tests?
(1) Positive Tests – Probably you have HIV. If you think it is a mistake, ask for the test to be repeated.
(2) Negative Tests: You don’t have HIV or it’s too soon to tell if you have been exposed in the last 6 months.
What is the population that is tested by law? Remember my Article about the government in your wallet and in your pocketbook? By Law the following are tested: (a) Entering Military; (b) Blood Donors; (c) Prison inmates; (d) Immigrants obtaining a Green Card.
Where do you go to be tested? In any of the 50 States, Go Online and find out – Helpline in GA/1.800.338.6745, Your Primary Care Physician, Your Local Health Department. Sometimes individuals might not have access to Online services or one is new in the country. If you are afraid, you can ask someone you trust to check the information for you. Friends, and community helpers, when a person asks for information, find a way to help. “Google that is rude. It is not an answer.”
Getting married: Regardless of your age, and whether this is your first or second marriage. You are getting married to one Bride, and One groom. But you don’t really know where they have been all their lives and who they have slept with. Am just saying you could be going for a honeymoon with all the others in his or her life. Start your relationship right. Get tested. Shocked? In October 1998, I was shocked too. While visiting Kenya, I was in Church on a Sunday morning comfortably singing “Njamba Ya Ita (Victorious Warrior) praising the Lord as usual. When it was time for announcements the Church became very still. I love my church back home for being honest. It was my first classroom. Then a serious letter was read to washirikas at PCEA Gichecheni, Kikuyu. Apparently the General Secretary had written to PCEA Churches, not just this one. The letter clearly stated that, couples engaged and planning to get married should get tested for HIV. And another thing he wrote about, stop taking videos and photographs during funerals. Help the surviving family members instead. Bwana Kaburugu, the no nonsense preacher asked, you all understand? Equivalent of a person adopted in the South like me saying, Diaspora y ‘all got it now.
What shall we say and do? Diaspora get tested. You know we are infected or affected by AIDs. It is possible adults in 2019 know someone who has died as a result of AIDS…you know family, friends, neighbors, classmates, and Christian friends. It seems like Diaspora is not going to be spared by AIDS. From home, school, church, community, government, and across social economic status…no one has escaped in Africa. We can pray for Africa, “God in [your] wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). If the test is positive, seek treatment. Tell the partners you have been with because you can save their lives. The more partners you have had in your lifetime, the greater your risk and their risk. Practice Abstinence, it is 100% accurate. No HIV. The last time I spoke about Abstinence was on Saturday November 23/and how as young people we looked up to adults as role models, and what we admired in them. That they kept themselves pure from sexual immorality. Those days family planning was not an available option for unmarried folks. Youth and all learned and practiced Abstinence with great success. Well the people listening might have thought that was out of line, so some smart person insinuated, “it was like that in those days” brushing and pasting the issue is easy. Yes it was like that in those old days. It was old fashioned. But as old fashioned as it sounds, it is also unrefutably the truth. From Youth, Adolescent, Adult and Senior Adulthood, abstinence is the best choice. You will have nothing to worry about or to regret.
What are some Statistics? In the State of GA as of 2018, 51,350 people were living with HIV, the Rate translates to 31.8 per 100,000 people. GA has a higher Rate compared to other states. Unfortunately the states ranking highest with those living with HIV or new cases of people diagnosed are mostly in the South. Hotlanta-ATL is referenced with hotspots ranking 2nd with the Highest rate of HIV in 2019. HIV infection in young Black men and MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) is markedly high too. GA also ranks 9 out of 16 hotspots in contracting HIV, that is about 100,000 out of a population of 10,627,767. So sad to say that the ATL rate of HIV might be compared to that of a 3rd World country. The numbers are revealing that 1 in every 51 people (December 2018) is living with AIDS. Age is also a concern because as of 2017, 20% of newly diagnosed cases are aged young (13-24 years).
Raising Awareness: Just like issues of Mental Health, Domestic Violence, Internet predators, Child Abuse, and more, let us talk about HIV/AIDS in order to remove stigma. Stigma refers to negative beliefs, feelings and attitudes that we might have concerning people who are living with HIV and those who are sick. The stigma is sometimes extended to families of those who are recently diagnosed, already in treatment. There are instances when some providers or compassionate individuals who understand and help those affected by HIV can be stigmatized too. We still need to know Who, What is it, When did it happen, Why, Where, How one can protect themselves and How to encourage others to get tested. Diaspora can argue, pretend, deny, pray about it, or even say it doesn’t affect us. Unfortunately people are still dying from AIDS. We are the best secret and oath keepers of HIV giving it freedom to destroy our loved ones. Let us remove stigma by talking about it openly and doing the right thing. In the end, it is what it is HIV.
This article is dedicated to a young student who I counseled with from Grades 4-11. RIP. He died shy of graduating from High school. He contracted HIV through birth. He fought all through his lifetime. When I last made a home visit and said goodbye to him, knowing what was coming next, he requested that his chair should be placed close to the window looking outside – he wanted to see every sunrise and possibly every sunset. We read Psalm 23 and said, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us now and forever more.” Amen.
“Every sunrise is a message from God. And every Sunset His signature” – Francis of Assisi.
www.cdc.gov (most valuable resource)