Between 180,000 to 280,000 Americans, including Blacks, are HIV positive and donâ€™t even know it, according to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Serviceâ€™s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Year after year, an urgent message has been sent out to the African American community, a reminder that Blacks account for the highest population of those with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes it. A countless number of public service announcements remind people not to engage in unprotected sex, to get tested and to follow a medical plan if diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
According to the CDC, AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women between the ages of 25 and 34-years-old. For African American women 35 to 44-years-old, it is the third leading cause of death. And itâ€™s the fourth leading cause of death for African American women, ages 45 to 54, and Hispanic women, ages 35 to 44.
The CDC states that around 80 percent of the women who have been diagnosed with HIV, contracted it through high-risk heterosexual contact because so many women are embarrassed or afraid to discuss with their partner: their partnerâ€™s HIV status, getting tested before engaging in sex or using a condom.
The department also suggests that women need to know their partnerâ€™s sexual practices as well. CDC research indicates that many bisexual men engage in unprotected sex with other men, without telling their female partner until one or both of them become infected. Women with multiple sex partners, whether through promiscuous behavior or paid service, are also in a high category for contracting HIV. The more sexual partners a woman has, the higher her risk becomes. Use of contaminated needles for illegal drug use is another cause of HIV infection.
The center has set up initiatives across the country to increase awareness, educate and to promote testing. Despite nationwide efforts to inform the public of the urgency to get tested, many go untested due to the haunting stigma of HIV, lack of available resources, fear of the unknown and misinformation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Angela, a single Black mother, was diagnosed with AIDS when she was taken to the emergency room with pneumonia. She said when the doctor came in to give her the results of her tests, she knew it was bad news.
â€œI could tell what ever he was going to tell me was going to change my life,â€ Angela recalls. â€œHe told me that I had full blown AIDS. Then I said, â€˜okay, what do we do about it?â€™â€
Because Angela chose not to get tested years ago, her HIV developed into AIDS which weakened her body and destroyed her immune system. Her body weight dropped and she became malnourished.
Due to the advances in modern medicine, she was able to fight her way back to health. She says that itâ€™s a daily struggle and some days are better than others, but sheâ€™s determined to live a full life.
During HIV/AIDS and other health awareness events, local hospitals provide mobile HIV testing clinics that use mouth swabs instead of extracting blood through a syringe. Some services are provided free of charge or through financial assistance for those of limited income, and testing is always confidential.
A list of local testing sites is available at www.hivtest.org. And there are several Web site that offer home test kits. A list of approved kits can be found on the FDA Web site at www.fda.gov/oashi/aids/test.htm.