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Conference Tackles Stigma Surrounding HIV/AIDS

Freddie Allen, Special to The Informer from NNPA | 12/4/2013, 3 p.m.
The International Conference on Stigma at Howard University featured lectures and panel discussions on the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and ...
Beverly Becton (Courtesy photo)

In 1992, Beverly Becton, addicted to drugs and suffering from pneumonia, began to scream as she sat in a hospital room alone at the D.C. General Hospital in Southeast.

“Oh God, why me? Oh, God why me?,” Becton screamed.

Becton had just learned that she was HIV-positive at a time when many in the Black community and health care providers still believed that a positive test was an automatic death sentence. Becton said that the doctor who told her that she was HIV-positive, left her in the room without providing any treatment information, counseling or referrals. Becton called a niece and told her about the diagnosis.

Her niece freaked out. Later, Becton would tell the niece that she “was just playing” that she hadn’t contracted HIV. Becton’s older sister told her not to tell anybody else.

“My sister sent me into total denial,” said Becton. She continued to use drugs and avoided treatment as she waited to die.

The virus that causes AIDS that had killed so many others didn’t send her to her grave.

“One day I just got tired of dying, killing myself,” said Becton. Seven years after receiving her first diagnosis, Becton decided to get help, tackling the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS head on.

Becton, 52, now an AIDS activist, shared her story at the International Conference on Stigma at Howard University last week. The event featured lectures and panel discussions on the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and other health issues in an effort to raise awareness about what conference organizers called “major barrier to prevention and treatment of HIV and a violation of human rights.”

The audience included health care providers, students, community leaders, activists, and people living with HIV/AIDS and their family and friends.

Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan White’s mother, was the keynote speaker during the morning session. She talked about how her son, desperately wanted to be treated like everyone else at time when little was known about HIV/AIDS.

In 1984, Ryan White, born with hemophilia, gained national prominence when he was barred from attending school following an AIDS diagnosis at 13 years old, making him one of the youngest hemophiliacs to be diagnosed with AIDS. White won that battle, but after facing discrimination, protests and threats of violence in his hometown of Kokomo, Ind., White’s family moved and White transferred to a new school in Cicero, Ind., where students received HIV/AIDS education and training from physicians and health care providers before he arrived. Students and school officials at the new school welcomed White with open arms.

White died in April 1990 following complications from a respiratory infection. Four months later, Congress passed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, also known as the Ryan White Care Act. CARE is the largest government-run program that provides services for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Ryan White Care Act focuses on the most vulnerable underserved communities and provides assistance for nearly half a million people every year.

President Obama signed an extension in October 2009 and also worked to repeal a law banning people with HIV from traveling and immigrating to the United States.