November 15, 2012
I look at the past 31 years. We have spent a bazillion dollars on HIV prevention programs across the U.S. We have plastered billboards and created every poster, sign and flyer or note card known to mankind. There are PSAs, commercials, short videos, long videos, YouTubes, full feature movies.
Our voice has spoken.
So why do we continue to have rising rates of HIV? Why do more and more people become infected?
I look at my children. They know all too well what AIDS looks like. They know about the meds I have to swallow every day. They know about all the doctor visits, the vials of blood drawn from lab draws, the impromptu ER visits and the always-too-long stays at the hospital. They have seen it. They have feared it. And they have had to utter words like "Mommy, is AIDS trying to kill you?"
Why would current generations of "normal people" want to walk that path of having AIDS or HIV? Why would they want to risk losing family, friends, possibly their jobs and housing? I know it's illegal for employers to fire you for being HIV positive. It's also illegal for people to drive drunk. It still happens.
So while our torches are still lit, while we still have the will and the drive to parade, to campaign, to speak our truth, listen. Listen well.
ZERO is achievable.
Mathematically speaking, zero is a magical and fascinating number. Everything times zero is zero. Dividing by zero is undefined. Zero is zero, it equals nothing, it is nothing and yet it is significant and thus powerful.
ZERO is possible.
What would the world look like if no more people became infected? What would it look like if all people -- married couples, teenagers, young people, old people, ANYONE and EVERYONE who has sex -- used condoms? Yes, everyone. Using condoms could be as commonplace as using your toothbrush every morning and evening to clean your teeth. Commonplace, people, commonplace. Yet I see the denial forever lurking. Married friends of mine tout their false pride: "I'm so sorry you and your husband HAVE to use condoms. That must suck. We don't use them because we are married. Condoms are for single (promiscuous) people. It's those single people spreading it."
ZERO is potential.
During the fall I noticed a growing recognition for breast cancer awareness. He watches football on the weekends and I couldn't help but admire the bright color that didn't seem to fit among these athletic giants, our football gladiators. Pink seemed to be all over the feet, hats, referee whistles and gloves, you name it and it was pink, bright pink. Football is, therefore, invested. They show they care. More women receive mammograms and breast cancer exams nowadays. Save the ta-ta's!! And lives, thousands, perhaps millions, have been saved. What if all those same football players, the refs, the announcers, the commercialism, committed that same investment in HIV prevention? Red ribbons everywhere. Save the immune system!!! Can you see it? Stadiums full of red! Why can't you picture it? Is it because HIV happens to *other* people? Oh those dastardly *other* people. Yep, I've heard it all too often.
ZERO is necessary.
Two of my kids are of age to be sexually active. They have known about condoms since they were little. They blew them up as balloons and played with them. They don't quite make very good balloon animals, but they make a sturdy water-bomb in the summertime!! My kids know condoms are a part of sex. They know it is required, just like wearing their seat belt in the car. They know cute guys/girls might say they "are clean and don't have any STIs," yet my kids know better, to heed the ever-ominous unknown, the window period, and so they use condoms anyway. They know my story. They know how I became infected. And it is forbidden to have them repeat my mistakes.
ZERO is my commitment.
Hopefully, God willing and by the grace of my forever insisting and demanding (my own version of campaigning and rule-making in my own home), my kids will forever be HIV free. Hopefully their awareness will permeate through their friends at school and boyfriends and so on and so forth. Hopefully their condom-commitment will be an example for others to follow. Hopefully their lives will be spared this unique, sometimes instant, sometimes drawn-out agony. We raise our kids to be better than ourselves. Your parents hoped for a better future for you. And we hope for a better future for them.
ZERO is inevitable.
My kids have asked me during their vaccinations, "Mom, what is Rubella?" To a 5-year-old requiring only a simple answer: "Something you don't want to have and we can fix right now so you never get it." HIV will be that way: fixable, preventable, stoppable. So what if we didn't need an "injectable vaccine" to prevent future kids from getting this? What if we didn't need one extra shot in the long list of kid immunizations? What if we just need a mental vaccine?? It could be an understanding, an accepted rule, a given, a way of living. Our cure may one day lie in the injectable sort, but for now it is in the "our-responsibility" sort.
Yes, I can envision the day a vaccine is created. I can envision The Cure being found. I can see when this whole HIV thing will be a thing of the past. I can also see parents educating their kids NOW and telling them about using condoms. I can also see society at large, all people, everyone, understanding NOW how important it is to protect their immune systems. The zero thing is ours to behold. It is ours as a human species to commit to. It is our responsibility. And we owe it to our grandkids. Like all the visibly seen pink during October, our mental fight to get to zero requires your participation. Zero new infections. Zero people, zero. It is possible. We can Get to Zero.
Shana Cozad is a full-blooded Native American enrolled with The Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. A noted, recognized public speaker, HIV/AIDS prevention educator and counselor since 1994, Shana is married to a wonderful lawyer. Together they are raising three children, as well as her teenage niece and her niece's infant daughter, outside Tulsa.
Read more of Mother Earth, Shana's blog, on TheBody.com.