When HIV/AIDS burst onto the scene in the early Eighties, no one really gave it a second thought. As we all know, it was deemed as a “gay mans” disease and it didn’t really affect the general population. In some circles, the consensus was that this disease was a testament sent by God to punish gay men for indulging in behaviors that was deemed as an abomination. Sadly, we’ve come to find out that HIV/AIDS doesn’t know sexual orientation, gender, race or ethnicity. It kills young and old alike and doesn’t believe in discriminating in the least.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), in 2009, there were an estimated 48,100 newly diagnosed cases of HIV reported.
1. “Even though the annual number of new HIV infections was stable overall during those years, there was an estimated 21% increase in HIV incidence for people aged 13-29 years, driven by a 34% increase in young MSM (Men that have sex with men - the only group to experience a significant increase in incidence in this age range). Among MSM aged 13-29, HIV incidence among black/African American MSM increased significantly (48%) from 2006 through 2009 with a statistically significant 12.2% estimated annual percentage increase.”
With the implementation of new drugs that combat AIDS, HIV has morphed into a chronic manageable illness instead of the death sentence that it had at one time been. It has shifted into the same category as diabetes and high blood pressure; both illnesses that can kill you if it is not addressed by a doctor and medication.
Because of this, many young gay men may be lulled into a false sense of complacency. The idea of contracting HIV doesn’t evoke the terror and dread that it once had, but it should. We don’t know how long the new drugs created to combat the virus that causes AIDS will work. We don’t know what the long term effect will be. We are only now coming upon an age where gay men who have been living with the virus for a prolonged period of time with the help of these powerful medications may start to experience some side effects from taking them. And we don’t know what those side effects will be.
It’s very possible that the very medications that are designed to save you from becoming a statistic of AIDS may inadvertently cause other life challenging problems such as compromising kidney functions or creating heart problems that you would never have had, had you not contracted HIV in the first place.
Because many young men didn’t go through the scare of AIDS when virtually nothing was known about the disease, they may feel themselves letting down their guards when they have every reason to keep it up.
Young gay men of color are at the top of the list when it comes to the rate of HIV infection, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe what we need is a wake up call…a reminder of what can happen as well as what is truly at stake. You know that you have to protect yourself as well as your partner. You know that you have to take precautions when you are out “socializing”.
For everything that we know about this disease, there is so much that we are still in the dark about. New medications are coming out every day. As a matter of fact, there are some HIV medications that are now available in generic form. And of course, we all know that the best form of HIV prevention is abstinence. But since most of us love sex, abstinence may not be an option. So protect yourself. Protect your partner. There is no reason for anyone in this day in age to contract the virus that causes AIDS…especially because it is 100% preventable.
1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention