As parents remove Halloween decorations from their lawns, as the orange and yellow leaves of fall begin to drift from deciduous trees and as Starbucks replaces its famed pumpkin spice latte from their menu in favor of drinks more suited to the approaching holiday season, people around the United States are reminded that it is no longer the month of October, but November. Many people across the country associate November with a variety of things, such as Thanksgiving and turkeys, or the popular trend of not shaving, dubbed “No-shave-November.”
What many don’t consider, however, is that November is also a month dedicated to a variety of specific illnesses. The illnesses brought to attention in the month of November, are understood as holding titles of awareness tied specifically to the month of November. Titles given to dedicate November as a time of advocacy for specific illnesses include: Diabetic Eye Disease Month, Epilepsy Awareness Month, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, National Alzheimer’s Disease Month, National COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Month, National Pet and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and National AIDS Awareness Month.
It is easy and not uncomfortable for most people to discuss the former seven disease-related awareness months, however, it is precisely the stigma which marks conversations about HIV and AIDS, which precisely makes it of the utmost importance to highlight and bring awareness to at all times, especially in the month of November.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, “1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it,” and the demographic most affected by HIV and AIDS are “gay and bisexual men,” the CDC specifies that it is, “particularly young African American gay and bisexual men,” that are most affected.
While it is important to remember that efforts taken to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, such as measures taken during the AIDS crisis to create resources and programs that provide free condoms have worked to greatly decrease the transmission of HIV and AIDS, the disease persists. Even with the modern creation of drugs shown to significantly lower the viral load of HIV and AIDS in the blood those who suffer from HIV and AIDS, and the innovative drug which helps to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, PrEP, (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), those who have always been at risk, of contracting HIV and AIDS, particularly those at high risk, remain at risk.
Of those at risk, the CDC website says, “If we look at HIV infections by transmission category, we see that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are most at risk. In 2014, gay and bisexual men accounted for 70% of all new HIV infections. In the same year, individuals infected through heterosexual sex made up 23% of all new HIV infections… If we look at HIV diagnoses by race and ethnicity, we see that African Americans are most affected by HIV. In 2015, African Americans made up only 12% of the US population but had 45% of all new HIV diagnoses. Additionally, Hispanic/Latinos are also strongly affected. They made up 18% of the US population but had 24% of all new HIV diagnoses.”
In light of this information, particularly that which highlights the prevalence of HIV and AIDS among a heterosexual demographic which may not believe itself to be at risk for contracting HIV and AIDS, it is important to note that the CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of their risk factor, get tested for HIV.
While it is encouraging to note the modern and historical achievement of social programs and scientific breakthroughs which have prevented the transmission of HIV and improved the quality of life for those living with HIV and AIDS, it is important to recognize the significance of HIV and AIDS awareness.
For as long as HIV and AIDS remains a significant issue facing anyone, it is a significant issue facing everyone. Accordingly, and particularly during the month of November, we reflect on the necessity of AIDS and HIV awareness.