In a patient's battle with HIV or AIDS, the stress of daily medications, continual checkups, and body ailments can sometimes pale in comparison to the unfavorable treatment from people who don't want to be associated with the disease. Along with efforts to stop the barrage of new infections, health advocates are trying to dispel the myths that accompany the disease.
World AIDS Day is December 1st, and with this year's theme, "Stopping the Stigma, Live and Let Live," the Memphis Regional Medical Center (The Med) took the message of tolerance and understanding to students at Airways Middle School. "We worked with six physical-education classes and gave an overview of HIV/AIDS to address stigmas and myths," said Marye Bernard, a nurse with the hospital. "It was amazing the responses and questions that the kids had."
The classes researched the illness with instructor Debra Chism-Carpenter prior to the program. "You'd be surprised at how very little they know about the illness and how it's contracted," said Chism-Carpenter. "The most common question asked was 'Can you get [AIDS] from kissing?'" In addition to the information session, the students participated in The Med's poster contest, with winning entries to be displayed at a community event on Friday, December 6th, at the Stax Music Academy from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"[The Med is] trying to emulate what's happening worldwide by having a free-spirited affair where people can come and learn that this thing is in the midst of us right now and that through our universal languages we can help one another," said Bernard. "[In Shelby County] we are at epidemic proportions of HIV/AIDS cases." Health-department statistics show 414 new HIV cases reported so far this year, with an estimated 550 infections by year's end. According to health officials, these numbers are probably low. The Centers for Disease Control advises health departments to estimate an additional 50 percent of reported numbers to account for those who do not know they are infected.
"With the stigma comes barriers to care, to access, to better support systems, and to proper treatment," said Bernard. "We can't heal folks if they are hiding [their illness] because they are ashamed or scared to tell their family."
In addition to the poster contest, AIDS Day at Stax will feature plays involving safe-sex and peer-pressure topics. Rap artists, poets, and LeMoyne-Owen students will also be on hand to get the message out. "After this event, people shouldn't be afraid of those who have HIV but should love and respect them because they are somebody's daughter, son, mom, or child," said Med outreach worker Misty Lane. n
For more info on World AIDS Day events at Stax, call 901-545-6577.
Shelby County AIDS Services
Friends For Life
The Regional Medical Center
Adult Special Care Clinic
African American Pastors Consortium
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
LeBonheur Children's Medical Center
Latino Memphis Conexion