December 1st is World AIDS Day.
This day serves as a reminder for us to practice safe sex, support those living with HIV, and to memorialize those who have passed from AIDS-related illness. There are almost 37 million people worldwide who are estimated to have the virus, and standing in solidarity with these people serves as a vital reminder to the public and our governments that HIV and AIDS is still a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Stigma and discrimination often comes associated with people living with this condition. World AIDS Day, founded in 1988, works to fight prejudice and continue to raise awareness on the virus. Improving education can help citizens protect themselves and other members within their communities. This education can also help us shift the blame from the people suffering from HIV and AIDS to a more understanding disposition. Each individual’s story is unique, and approaching with compassion can help us provide more accurate care and support to those who are in desperate need of help.
There are many ways one can be exposed to HIV, such as if you are a healthcare worker who has been exposed to blood, or if you have had sexual contact with an HIV-infected partner. If you know you have been exposed to the virus, it is possible to take a 1-month course of anti-HIV medicine to prevent infection. This medication, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), must be taken within 72 hours of exposure in order to be effective.
If you do not know for sure that you have been infected, getting tested can help you make informed decisions. Additionally, there are many locations in the United States that will offer free HIV testing. If you are in a college or university, your school’s health center may have more information on where you can get tested for free or a discounted price.
Many of us know how to practice safe sex and its importance. The hard part is learning how to apply our knowledge to what we actually do in our daily life and behavior. Protecting ourselves goes hand in hand with protecting our community and ensuring that our community stays healthy and strong. Fighting alone may be difficult, but leaning on our sisters and community when things get tough is what makes our bonds everlasting.