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World AIDS Day (My Thoughts)

By Maria T. Mejia

November 23, 2011

Maria T. Mejia

Maria T. Mejia

For our World AIDS Day 2011 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- regular contributors and those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.

World AIDS Day has become one of the most recognized international health days, and a key opportunity to raise awareness, commemorate those who have passed on, and celebrate victories such as increased access to treatment and prevention services.

Started on Dec. 1, 1988, World AIDS Day is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, fighting stigma and improving education. World AIDS Day is important for reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. PEOPLE ARE STILL DYING OF AIDS!

Thirty years into the illness I still find many people making the disease a moral issue. It is not a moral disease; it is a human condition.

There is still not a cure! We want a cure. I know that the lab companies are making better medication ... but we want a cure or a vaccine! Some places, like here in some states in the U.S., thousands of citizens are on waiting lists for lifesaving medications. This is horrible; it breaks my heart seeing people in such need of these medications, and they can't get them! What is going to happen to the newly diagnosed?

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It is said that one out of every five people who have HIV don't know it. I urge everyone to really think about this.

Let's not only create awareness on Dec. 1. We have to educate people on this disease every day! I still don't understand why so many people are getting infected. Just here in the United States, every 9 1/2 minutes a person contracts HIV/AIDS. This is scary.

As I always tell young people and even old: This is a loooooooong illness that is not easy to deal with. You don't only have to deal with something trying to kill you every day, but also with ignorance, stigma, discrimination, and the worst: SELF STIGMA. People are in hiding; they don't want to talk about it. They are living in shame and scared that someone will find out they're HIV positive. They feel isolated and alone. They feel that no one is ever going to accept them or love them!

I have gone through many cycles over these 20 years and it is not as simple as "I will take one pill and will look good and live my life"! Even though we are trying to be as productive as we can, the fatigue and side effects that our lifesaving medications give us are very debilitating sometimes. But we must be strong and continue fighting till the end, or until a cure comes (maybe I am a dreamer).

I have a serious concern with people that are not respecting HIV/AIDS. As I always say, and try to drill it over and over every chance I have: It is NOT a death sentence anymore, but it is a life sentence.

You can prevent this virus just by protecting yourself and not taking any chances. I got infected at the age of 16 by my first boyfriend. It only takes one time of unprotected sex!

For those that are newly diagnosed, you can say you are lucky that things are better than 30 years ago or even 20 years ago when I found out. So please do not feel dirty, less than; don't stigmatize yourself. Keep your head up high and fight fight fight!

At least for me there are some positive things that happened with my HIV diagnosis -- like loving myself more, taking care of myself, being more spiritual and more compassionate towards others, and living each day to the fullest. These are the cards I was dealt with and I have been playing them right for a long, long time. I want to live! I have a purpose and mission to educate and tell my story so I can save lives and hopefully impact someone -- or many -- not to get infected with this virus.

I also think about all of the people that I have lost over this disease and it breaks my heart. I don't want anyone else to get HIV/AIDS. I don't want anyone to die of AIDS. And no matter how many new medicines are out there, people are still dying.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 is "Getting to Zero." After 30 years of the global fight against HIV/AIDS, this year the global community has committed to focusing on achieving three targets:

"Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths."

It sounds very nice, but the reality is that there are still HIV infections every day around the globe, so much discrimination and stigma, and as I said, people are still dying.

I believe the best and most effective way to prevent and educate and stomp on stigma is through our stories and coming out of the HIV closet. This way, people can actually see our faces and know what happened to us. As a Latina, in my community, so many of us are getting infected! Women of color in general are at such high risk.

It is time for us to fight like in the ACT UP days with Larry Kramer, and not just sit back and take our medications. We must be passionate and have that fire to stop the spread of this disease and the ignorance around it.

If we want to change things, we must start with ourselves. As activists, we must not tear each other down or smash other activists' work. We have to be united! Everyone has their own way of educating! We are all that we have.

When AIDS first started, no one could have predicted how the epidemic would spread across the world and how many millions of lives it would change. There was no real idea what caused it and no idea in how to prevent it or treat it.

Now we know that HIV is the cause of AIDS and that it can devastate families, communities and whole countries. We are living in an "international" society, and HIV has become the first truly "international" epidemic. It affects all of us (human beings).

Already, more than 30 million people around the world have died of AIDS-related diseases. In 2009, 2.6 million people were newly infected with HIV, and 1.8 million men, women and children lost their lives. 33.3 million people around the world are now living with HIV.

I want to wish everyone much love and light!

and please ...

LOVE YOURSELF,TEST YOURSELF AND PROTECT YOURSELF!

Maria T. Mejia is a Colombian female and a tireless HIV advocate and speaker. She lives in Miami, Fla., with her partner, Lisa.

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