by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, an awareness and call for action campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of People with AIDS in 1995. This day calls for individuals to get tested so that they will be aware of their status, and to prevent the unknowingly spread of the virus. The fight against HIV/AIDS is dear to me because I grew up during a time when groundbreaking research and medications were coming forth, as well as in-depth conversations about the myths and truths of the disease were taking place. My mother, who is a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), use to give me health brochures, pamphlets, and books about different illnesses because I wanted to be a doctor when I was a child. Before the age of 12, I was educated about how the virus was acquired, how to protect oneself from infection, and the importance of advocacy when it comes to combating stigma and marginalization those living with HIV/AIDS endured.
Though I have given up my dream of becoming a medical doctor, I have made it my priority to be an advocate and supporter for those affected with HIV/AIDS. I interned as a Master’s-level Social Worker with a non-profit organization that served those living with HIV/AIDS along with educating the community about the illness in the northern-central Piedmont region of South Carolina. This experience allowed me to meet those living with HIV/AIDS and listen to the challenges they face in coping with their status. I was able to witness the steadfast spirits of individuals who were determined to not allow the virus dictate how they would live their lives. Seeing such strength and perseverance truly brought home the realization that being infected does not mean that it is the end of your life. This internship experience helped shape how I view the impact of HIV/AIDS on the lives of those infected 30+ years after the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported.
Though getting tested for HIV can be frightening, not knowing your status and passing the illness to unsuspecting partners is even more devastating. Whether you go to an HIV/AIDS clinic or buy an HIV/AIDS home-testing kit, please be knowledgeable about your HIV status. You will not only be saving your own life, but those you love as well. HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was over 30 years ago, and people with the virus are living longer due to the advances in medications. Every day, it seems that we are getting closer and closer to having an HIV vaccine, and ultimately, a cure.
Know your status, get tested, and advocate for those living with the virus so that we can eliminate the stigma that is still dominating this disease. For the social workers out there, it is our duty to speak out and stand firmly in support and alliance for those fighting this virus. We have to be the change we want to see for our clients, our neighbors, and in our communities.
We need to band together as a unit every day, especially to conquer the strength of the AIDS virus.
– Dustin Hoffman
(Featured image credit: Courtesy of the CDC.)