ALL RIGHT, I confess. Wednesday was National HIV Testing Day, and I didn't know a thing about it until Thursday. I'm supposed to keep informed to inform you, but this one slipped by me.
As often as I have written about HIV/AIDS and how it ravages the black community, I didn't know Wednesday was the 10th annual observance of NHTD.
Enough groveling. Let's get on with raising awareness, which is far more important for you than that I was uninformed.
Annual testing day is over, but there's no excuse not to get tested. Forget about waiting to get tested on next year's NHTD.
Thanks to the BlackAmericaWeb site, African-American communities nationwide were reminded that the National Association of People with AIDS launched the annual NHTD a decade ago to persuade people to get tested.
It doesn't matter whether your lifestyle is risky or whether you are in a monogamous relationship.
Everyone should get tested. Think of getting an HIV test in the same way that you get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels checked. The purpose is to have information in order to take the necessary action if something is askew, and to keep doing what is right if test results show that there is no need to do anything medically.
And just getting one HIV test for life won't do. Most of us have health checks more than once a year. More than one test annually might be necessary for some whose lifestyle or circumstances demand it. A physician or testing site can offer more detailed guidance.
Let's look at some figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard AIDS Institute data that are posted on the Balm in Gilead Web site:
• Annually, there are some 40,000 new HIV infections. More than half are among blacks.
• AIDS causes more deaths among blacks ages 25 to 44 than heart disease, cancer, and homicide.
• One in 50 black men and one in 160 black women is HIV positive.
• In the over 55 age group, blacks make up more than half of the HIV cases.
• Of all reported cases of AIDS among children, black children make up nearly two-thirds of those cases.
• Only 15 percent of the U.S. adolescent population is black. But more than 60 percent of all AIDS cases reported in 1999 were among blacks ages 13 to 19.
• Intravenous drug use is causing HIV/AIDS to spread in black communities like wild fire. Black women make up 43 percent and black men make up 38 percent of those infected.
If none of that shocks you into taking positive action, then have somebody check your pulse. Talk about a disproportionate burden, those statistics definitely reflect the stronghold HIV/AIDS has on African-Americans.
Among the most startling are the cases of infections among black youth and senior citizens. As for the latter, here's what the founder of Balm in Gilead, an agency in Richmond, Va. that helps churches establish AIDS ministries, had to say:
"We have to begin dealing with the reality of people's sexual lives past 50. We have to begin to talk to our mothers and grandmothers because it's a real-life issue," said Pernessa Seele.
She went on to talk about a 97-year-old woman from a church in New York who had an HIV test. The results were positive.
The director of the agency's office in Washington, D.C. said churches have other health ministries, for high blood pressure and diabetes, for instance.
"They need an HIV/AIDS ministry. It's not a sex issue. It's a health issue," the Rev. Susan Newman told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Whether your place of worship is a church, temple, mosque, on the patio, or in front the tube, get tested. HIV/AIDS doesn't care about your address, your color, your sex, your sexual preferences, your marital status, your bank account, or your beliefs.
It's time out for being embarrassed about HIV/AIDS. Even if you've been married to the same person for decades and expect that you both are loyal, get tested.
If you can't imagine your single, church-going mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or whomever having sexual relations, urge them to get tested anyway. Explain to them that it's not their personal business that you care about, but that you care about them and their well-being.
I know how tough it is getting older women to have other doctor's examinations and how tough it is to get black men to go to the doctor period. Lord have mercy on you for suggesting they get tested for HIV!
But tell them that this plague is ravaging black communities and that they must abandon their stubborn ways for their health's sake.
Tell them you don't want for them to become another HIV/AIDS death statistic showing how the virus is decimating black communities.
And don't forget to inform preteens, teens, and young, middle-age, and older adults too.
With statistics like these, there's no time or need to fret about racism. We're doing racists a favor by killing ourselves.
Here are some local sites where you can get tested. As a service to the CDC, they are listed on the National HIV Testing Resources Web site.
Please call first to see whether appointments are necessary.
• Medical University of Ohio at Toledo, 3120 Glendale Ave., 419-383-4328.
• Neighborhood Health Association of Toledo, 313 Jefferson Ave., 419-255-7883.
• Planned Parenthood of Northwest Ohio, 1301 Jefferson Ave., 419-255-1115.
• River East Community Health Center, 117 Main St., 419-691-1322.
Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.
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