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HIV at 30

By Gary Bell

July 20, 2011

For the two or three of you (lol) who follow my blog, you may have noticed that I haven't blogged in a while. A lot has happened to me over the last several months that I won't get into now. However, I have returned with a renewed sense of purpose and quite a lot to say.

Much has been written about the 30th anniversary of HIV. I plan to write throughout the year on this topic. It is long and complex area and I cannot begin to do it justice in one or two blogs. So here I go:

My blog today will be more in the form of a rant. It comes on the heels of a recent radio show on which I appeared. During the show, I experienced a sense of déjà vu; that the conversation I was engaged in has happened before. After 30 years, I was answering many of the same questions, the same way:

  • Why are the rates in African Americans so high?
  • Why aren't the churches more involved?
  • Why do so many African Americans have conspiracy theories?
  • Isn't Magic Johnson cured?
  • Why is the stigma so great?
  • Isn't AIDS a gay disease occurred to me?

After 30 years, with so many ways to access the information, why hasn't it sunken in? Moreover, this "HIV illiteracy" does not seemed to be impacted by SES (socioeconomic status) I have had the same conversations with people ranging from 6th grade reading levels to doctorates.

Certainly the glass isn't completely empty. We have made strides. There is finally a National HIV strategy. Many cities have instituted robust social marketing and testing initiatives. And, some faith-based institutions have become involved. But, as I have these daily conversations and watch the rates continue to rise, it still seems apparent that it just hasn't sunken in enough. Without our most important asset, knowledge, we still have a long way to go.

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See Also
20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others
More on the 30th Anniversary of AIDS

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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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