DALLAS (CBS11) – New research out Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control shows the nation losing ground in the fight against HIV/AID in minority communities.
If current HIV diagnosis rates persist, about half of all gay black men and a quarter of gay Latino men in the United States will be infected with HIV in their lifetime. That’s compared to an expected infection rate of one in eleven white gay men.
Some North Texans working to prevent new infections–and support those living with the disease–say the arrival of anti-viral medications helped ease the panic of a generation ago: but, now in many cases apathy has replaced panic.
“We helped people die with dignity,” says Shannon Hilgart, Executive Director of Fort Worth’s AIDS Outreach Center. “That’s what we did. It would be common to go the grocery store and see people emaciated, 25-year-olds looking 45-50 and they were skeletal looking.”
Hilgart says she wasn’t surprised at the new CDC findings, having noted what she calls a “lack of urgency” regarding HIV/AIDS in many communities.
“We have got to become more creative, more innovative in our efforts on prevention in reaching minority men,” says Auntjuan Wiley, President and CEO of AIDS Walk South Dallas, Inc. Called “Mr. Community,” Wiley says “we can no longer just depend on the condom packet.”
Wiley says he has lived with HIV for more than two decades. During that time, he has also been fighting to change the risky behaviors that put so many men at risk. He also adds that our internet driven society provided added opportunities to court danger: there are now so called “hook up” apps.
“It also makes it more accessible for you to have multiple partners,” says Wiley, because you can have multiple partners in one night just by going to an app. No questions asked. Am I coming to you or are you coming to me and there’s the hookup. Protected or unprotected and most of the time unprotected.”
Experts also add that the lingering stigmas attached to homosexuality in minority communities acts to encourage gay and bisexual men to keep risky behaviors hidden.
“I think it starts with a conversation,” says Wiley. “I think it has to be people committed to the work, that are concerned about the disease continuing to rise in our community.”
Meanwhile, Hilgart says the best treatment is prevention: adding that while patients now live longer with HIV, AIDS should never be taken lightly.
“HIV is preventable,” says Hilgart, “and if we can get people to understand that it is a devastating disease… manageable or not, it’s still a devastating disease. So it’s important for folks to get tested and then get treatment.”
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