February 7: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Author’s Note: This posting is offered in anticipation of February 7, and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It is published beforehand to allow readers to explore developments and opportunities for involvement prior to the actual date.
In the USA and several nations in the Caribbean, February 7, annually, is observed as National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day for the communities of African descent to focus on the disproportionate (unequal) impact the current HIV/AIDS crisis is having on the various communities of African and Black heritage. This date is observed to bring the different communities and institutions together to explore ways to combat HIV infections and to replace ignorance with facts and knowledge.
No community is capable of survival hiding behind a mask of indifference and myth. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) seeks to dispel untruths and stereotypes and to help the broader African-American community to “come out” of its proverbial closet and to confront this pandemic.
Background and NBHAAD History
African-Americans constitute approximately 13% of the total U.S. populations yet represent more than 50% of all categories in HIV and AIDS related statistics reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obviously, the community is being ravaged by this pandemic.
In 1999, alarmed over the effects of HIV/AIDS within the African-American communities, representatives of organizations serving Black Americans, the U.S. Public Health Service officials, persons of faith communities and interested politicians met to address concerns. One of the results of these meetings was the decision to observe February 7, annually, as National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. February was chosen as the month as it was already observed as Black History Month.
The very first NBHAAD was officially held on February 7, 2000. This year marks its 19th anniversary and NBHAAD now receives national recognition as a major component of the U.S. strategy on preventing the spread of HIV.
Over the past two decades, the coordination of NBHAAD has evolved into the Strategic Leadership Council (SLC). The SLC provides guidance, direction, support and strategic thought to engaging an increase in involvement in NBHAAD by individuals and organizations with interests and missions in providing services to African-American communities. One of the major achievements of this campaign has been the availability of information and promotional materials on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment that is both culturally sensitive and nonjudgmental.
NBHAAD contains four key components for a successful awareness campaign. Each of these four elements has proven its worth in combatting HIV/AIDS. The four basic initiatives are as follows:
- Get educated: know the facts about transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS
- Get involved: learn about opportunities available in community prevention efforts
- Get tested: know your own HIV status and encourage others to do the same
- Get treated: to receive proper healthcare and support needed to successfully live with HIV/AIDS
In utilizing the “educated-involved-tested-treated” format as outlined above, NBHAAD strives to offer a multifaceted approach to eliminating the stigma and marginalization that often surrounds persons living with HIV. In doing so, it seeks to empower communities and to foster individual prevention strategies.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) one of the individual prevention strategies that is endorsed by the NBHAAD. PrEP is a course of HIV prevention drugs taken by HIV- people to reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Information regarding PrEP is featured in an earlier post for World AIDS Day published here previously. To be directly linked to that post, click the title: World AIDS Day 2018.
PrEP relates to the first key component of the strategies identified by NBHAAD. Get educated encourages the acquiring of knowledge of the facts of HIV transmission and prevention. PrEP is a personal risk reduction initiative against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Undetectable = Untransmittable
What is U=U?
Medicines to treat HIV can eliminate the risk of sexual transmission. People with HIV who maintain and undetectable viral load (amount of HIV) for at least six months consistently do not transmit (spread) HIV through condomless sex. This is known as: Undetectable = Untransmittable or simply: U=U.
U=U is integral part of the key component #1 of the NBHAAD mission: Get educated. When the knowledge is used as a personal prevention option for an HIV- individual, it becomes a part of their routine. In the case of an HIV+ person, it relates to key component #4: Get treated. Treatment helps maintain a lower viral load and eliminates transmission of HIV to an uninfected sexual partner.
How does HIV treatment prevent HIV transmission?
Antiretroviral medicines control HIV very effectively. They do not cure HIV or remove the virus from the body, but if taken every day, as prescribed, HIV medicines stop the virus from multiplying (reproducing). This prevents the virus from causing more damage to the immune system and stops sexual transmission to others.
What does undetectable mean?
Undetectable means that the level of HIV in a person’s blood is so low that it doesn’t register (show up) on a viral load test. If a person is undetectable, HIV is still hiding in their body, but the amount is so low that HIV cannot be passed to others through sex.
How do we know that Undetectable = Untransmittable?
Three recent studies – HTPN 052, PARTNER and Opposites Attract – followed gay and bisexual male couples and heterosexual couples, in which one partner was HIV+ (infected) and the other HIV- (uninfected). During these three studies, not one HIV+ person who was taking antiretroviral medicines and was undetectable passed HIV to their HIV- partner – in over 34,000 instances of condomless anal sex among male couples and over 36,000 instances pf condomless vaginal or anal sex among heterosexual couples.
How do I get my viral load to be undetectable?
If a person has HIV, take antiretroviral medicines as prescribed (directed) by your health care provider. After starting the medicines, your provider will take blood samples to determine when the level of HIV in your blood has become undetectable. Once a person has been undetectable for at least six consecutive months, HIV is no longer sexually transmittable as long as the HIV infected partner takes the medication and maintains an undetectable viral load.
If I am HIV negative, should I avoid having sex with people who have HIV?
Having sex with someone who has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but is on treatment and is undetectable is considerably safer than having sex with someone who has HIV but is not receiving treatment medications or doesn’t know their HIV status. A person who is recently infected with HIV can have a very high viral load and easily transmit the virus to their partners through condomless sex. A person with HIV who is undetectable for six months or longer will not transmit (infect) HIV to their sexual partners, even if they have sex without condoms.
If my partner tells me they have an undetectable vial load, should we still use condoms?
Having an undetectable viral load for six months or longer prevents HIV transmission but does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancy. Condoms offer protection against HIV, others STIs and unintentional pregnancy, if used correctly. If you are unsure about whether your partner is undetectable, consider using condoms or take daily PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to protect against HIV. A person should never feel uncomfortable or pressured to have sex without a condom.
If I am on HIV treatment, should my partner be on PrEP?
Couples share the responsibility of preventing HIV. HIV+ persons and their partners should discuss how they can enjoy a healthy, fulfilling and stress-free sex life by using condoms, HIV treatment, PrEP or emergency PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). HIV- partners may choose to take PrEP, especially if they have more than one sexual partner. are unsure of their partner’s HIV status, are unsure of their partner’s ability to keep their viral load undetectable or feel more secure in their sex lives with the added protection of PrEP.
What else can I do to prevent transmitting or becoming infected with HIV and other STIs?
Get an HIV test. A positive test result is an opportunity to treat HIV, stay healthy and prevent HIV transmission to others. A negative test result offers the chance to discuss ways to stay negative, such as using condoms, taking daily PrEP or taking emergency PEP. Get tested regularly for other STIs. STIs may not cause symptoms, but they increase an HIV+ person’s viral load or make it easier for HIV to enter an HIV- persons blood.
Source for U=U: New York City Health Department website
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and ReNude Pride
NBHAAD and ReNude Pride share a common purpose in reducing the numbers of HIV infections and in improving the quality of life of all persons living with HIV/AIDS. As the same gender loving and bare practitioner author of ReNude Pride, my spouse, Aaron, is a Black man and NBHAAD serves his cultural and racial community. As gay men, we both are committed to challenging this disease at every level and every opportunity.
I first became involved in HIV prevention education as a community instructor for the American Red Cross when an undergraduate in university. I progressed and eventually became an instructor-trainer with that organization until the Red Cross lost its federal funding for providing national HIV/AIDS prevention education. I am currently a volunteer for a local non-profit organization that provides services for persons living with AIDS. I volunteer with them one day per week. The organization with which I volunteer serves all persons living with AIDS within a specific geographic area and the majority of whom are African-American.
The Importance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
NBHAAD is a grass-roots effort by the African-American populations to address concerns and issues within the African-American or Black community dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some of these problems are specific to the Black community and others may be and often are generic to all communities living with this health crisis. What affects the health and well-being of some of us invariably affects us all, no matter who we may be. None of us are an isolated island unto ourselves.
NBHAAD represents a concerted concentration of energies and resources from the broader African-American community towards a vulnerable segment of its own community. Studies prove time and again that the majority of us learn best from those we perceive as most similar to ourselves. This is the reason why Deaf teachers are encouraged to instruct Deaf students. Why blind teachers are encouraged to instruct blind students. Sometimes the cultural bond between two people can succeed where other similarities simply don’t exist.
This is the reason why National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day serves a dynamic purpose. It is a community uniting to combat a disease that is devastating if faced alone and without compassion and support.
For additional information on NBHAAD, please click the links below:
The sankofa Adinkra symbol for Black History Month.