(Some portions of this Blog were first posted August 2011)
Once upon a time there was a world without HIV/AIDS. Ask those who live with it daily; provide medical care to a patient, sit by the bed of a loved one, search for a cure, or grieve over the loss of a friend, lover, or family member - and they'll tell you it's hard to remember the time "before". Three decades have passed with this virus bringing pain and suffering to our planet, whether it is one individual or entire generations, it has been deadly!
My introduction to working in this field came through my years as a Health & Safety Educator for the American Red Cross. I remember clearly the day my Chapter Director told me "there is this new disease; it has something to do with blood. Are you willing to go to a workshop and learn about it?" Well, I did, and here I am thirty years later.
Yup, it is a disease spread via blood, the blood and infectious body fluids of an infected person. How did someone get infected? Well, after much research and investigation we knew it was through unprotected sex with an infected person through vaginal, anal, or oral sex (semen & vaginal fluids). Also by sharing contaminated needles and syringes when injecting drugs (blood), and an infected Mother could transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy; at birth or even through her breast milk because the virus was found in breast milk of infected mothers (breast milk).
It is not spread through casual contact, it is bloodborne not airborne. So it can't be coughed on you, it isn't spread on toilet seats or by drinking or eating after someone who is infected. But sadly, fear, misinformation, stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS continues to this day. It's been 30 years folks, get educated, get tested, know your status and that of your sexual and drug using partners! Enough is enough already! I'm not going to let you off easy on that one; we are going to talk about it!
I want us to learn all we can about this infection, talk about it, think on it, dwell on it, chew on it in our mind and then I want my community to PREVENT it. Yes, I don't want another darn person in our community to become infected, cause we know how to stop it! And yet is continues to take our sons, daughters, uncles, mothers, brothers and on and on and on.
Over the next few posts I want to share with you some links and websites so that if you are interested you can learn more and share the information. And don't tell me this doesn't affect you because it does. The toll on our country is significant and it is especially so in the Southern states where the epidemic is at crisis level. So here is your homework... (just kidding) but please hang with me and let's make a difference by at least knowing the facts and how we can make a difference in our community.
Sites to check out:
1. The Cheaha Coosa Valley Community HIV Network (ADPH)
If you are on Facebook, please LIKE the page for the local HIV Planning Group at ADPH. The group meets monthly to inform the community, consumers and interested service providers, schools, churches, businesses, etc. about HIV in our community and across the state.
Meetings are held usually the 4th Wed. of each month, often at the Calhoun Co. Health Dept. at 10:00. All meeting are open to the public. and are Chaired by local HIV HIV Coordinator Tom Robertson.
Thanks, go LIKE the page and share with your social media friends.
Health Services Center's Project Revolution
This page supports our SAMHSA prevention project focused on minority young adult females in the community (ages 19-24). Project Coordinator Teri Wheeler.
Please go LIKE their page!
Health Services Center's Project Vortex
This page supports our SAMHSA prevention project providing prevention services on college campuses to minority young adult females (ages 19-24). Project Coordinator Melissa Parker
Please go LIKE their page!
4. Health Services Center's New Media Project (NMP) on TWITTER (coming soon to Facebook and You Tube)
This new project will focus on using social media to promote substance abuse and HIV prevention messages to two populations. LGBT/MSMs - and Persons over 50, especially those living with HIV
The project is on Twitter right now and will soon have Facebook pages and an You Tube Channel as well. We will be recruiting for community volunteers to Post and Tweet for us, especially from among our patients and consumers at HSC clinics...MORE INFO TO COME, but if you are on Twitter, please go FOLLOW this page now!
5. The Health Services Center (Open Group) on Facebook
This group is open to all, posting news, articles, updates, promoting HSC events and awareness days etc.
Thanks so much, feel free to share these social media links with your colleagues and email lists.
(And just so you can "bookmark" it - the new and improved HSC agency website:)
www.cdc.gov (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) go to the HIV or AIDS pages, lots of great resources and fact sheets)
www.adph.org (Alabama Department of Public Health, go to the H page for HIV, or the A page for AIDS, find out what the statistics are for your county, and what our State health departments are doing to fight HIV in Alabama)
www.samhsa.gov (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they provide funding for the substance abuse programs at the Health Services Center and are the premier provider of substance abuse and addiction/recovery information in the U.S.)
www.nmac.org (The National Minority AIDS Council, a national organization focused on HIV/AIDS in minority populations)
www.southernaidscoalition.org (The Southern AIDS Coalition, get the perspective and information for the Southern States from the experts; HIV professionals, persons living with HIV, advocates, and those of us who live and work in the South, and care about the South)
Okay, that's it for today. I'm in this for the long haul, as my truck driver Dad used to say, so come back and join me on this journey. My grandson has assigned a picture for me when I call his cell phone the picture that comes up on his screen to tell him his Nanny is calling...a Trojan condom! So you are "safe" with me. Leave me a comment if you have questions or concerns, I'm all about some conversation.
Save the Date! You Are Invited!
2012 REAL Conference on Reentry
"A Life in the Community for Everyone"
Wed. July 25, 2012 - 9:00-3:30
The Anniston City Meeting Center, 16th and Noble St., Anniston Alabama
The Health Services Center in Hobson City, Calhoun County, Alabama would like to invite you to attend our 2012 "REAL" Conference, (Reentry, Education and Linkages). This FREE event will offer regional and local speakers featuring information and updates concerning the unique needs and challenges facing the person who is reentering their community after being incarcerated, and how our community and state are responding.
Topics will include: Reentry, Corrections/Criminal Justice Updates, Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention for the Reentry Population, Veteran’s issues, Success Stories, Health Disparities, Minority Health, and much more!
Confirmed Presenters include: Dr. Eddie Lancaster Reentry Coordinator, Alabama Dept. of Corrections, Sergeant John Garlick, Mental Health Officer Calhoun Co. Sheriff’s Dept., Chaplin (Major) Derek Smith, D. Min. and Elana Parker, Health Equity Programs Manager – Alabama Dept. of Public Health. More info to come!
Who Should Attend: Persons who are reentering their community after being incarcerated and their friends and family; substance abuse treatment and prevention professionals, health educators, corrections and criminal justice professionals, law enforcement, clergy/faith community, mental health counselors, healthcare providers, social workers/case managers, persons in recovery from drugs/alcohol, community advocates, housing professionals, etc.
An exhibitor's area will showcase area service providers who provide programs and services to the reentry population in N. E. Alabama. Plan on having an exhibit table for your organization or agency.
Registration open now! Check our website! www.hscal.org
4.0 Free CEUs will be available for Social Workers, and Certificates of Attendance will be available for all attending.
The REAL Conference is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Minority AIDS Initiative, and presented by the Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Program, Project REAL. This five year project is being implemented by the Health Services Center and will be featured during the conference, along with similar prevention projects in our community.
Please mark your calendar to attend. Feel free to share this info with your colleagues and friends, and let us know if you have questions, or would like to have an exhibit table for your agency or organization.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Director of Education/Outreach - Health Services Center
Project Director, Project REAL
For Additional Conference Info - please contact: Health Services Center 1-866-832-0100 or email
Valerie Mason firstname.lastname@example.org
Phillip Keith email@example.com
Find Project REAL on Facebook – www.facebook.com/ProjectREAL
Hello from the Deep South! You get a big ole Southern “bless yore heart” for even opening a blog with HIV or AIDS in the title, so way to go my friend!
I’m a little giddy seeing that over 4,000 of you have taken a moment to read a few words from my blog about those of us in the fight down here in the deep-fried fields of Sweet Home Alabama!
Sorta been a busy few weeks for me, how bout you? For those of us in the HIV/AIDS field, this time of year is a little crazy, (like the rest of the year isn’t, HAH!). Organizations funded by grant funding, especially federal funds, have massive reporting and documentation requirements that make me feel like I might explode if another report due date pings on my Iphone reminders! Now don’t get me wrong, I love my IPhone, it just seems to nag me much more often here lately!
I find myself longing for the days of my first job as a 1969 teenage bride (good grief, what were we thinking!!??) where I worked at a Pasquale’s Pizza and slogged though day after day churning out pizzas and roast beef sandwiches (dang, those things were good), and chopped cabbage for cole slaw by the buckets! My boss once told me “to stand on one leg every chance I got” and I guess I looked at him with a goofy question mark on my face because he then said “stand on one leg, cause you sure as heck aren’t gonna be able to sit down tonight”! Mindless work, but I didn’t feel the weight or the pressure that comes with trying to provide life-saving services in a rural community in a backwards thinking state (dare I say nation?) that often doesn’t give a shizz about whether people with HIV live or die. Yup, I’ll take some cheese with that whine.
Okay, let me clarify; I love my work, and my life for that matter…as a Prevention program director I know there are many loving, caring and compassionate people in our community who do work to make life better for our neighborhood, those living with HIV or not. The not for profit community in our town and around the state carry a heavy burden attempting to fill the gaps that widen daily in Grand Canyon proportions with regard to healthcare, housing, drug/alcohol treatment, domestic violence, mental health, child abuse, etc. - not to mention just plain ole daily “food, clothing & shelter” type needs. Some faith based groups join in this endeavor and often provide a safe place for those in need. However, it’s just not enough. Poverty, and the desperation that comes as part of that package, drives some to risky behaviors that lead to disease, addiction, homelessness and heartache. It’s nothing new, it has been part of the fabric of life for generations; it just seems that we are doing less and less as a society to address it. Should we do more? Would we do more? Could we do more?
Sorry folks, you can’t ignore the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable and young, the sick and diseased. Oh you can try, you can walk hurriedly past the bell ringer and the kettles at Christmas time, you can always say “No”, when the cashier at the Big Box store asks you to donate your change to a worthy cause, you can drive past the children holding buckets at an intersection in any small country town as they seek funds to attend a youth camp or buy a computer for their club, and you can also feel all holy, high and mighty when you hear that a co-worker, distant cousin, or neighbor has contracted HIV, or Hepatitis C because of their drug use or sexual behavior. You can ignore that your elected officials are too concerned with fighting among themselves or grabbing all the perks they can get while in office to seriously debate and budget for social services so badly needed in our state and around the nation. Pardon me, but where in the hell does it all end? The needy folks among us aren’t going anywhere, their needs grow larger each day, how do we justify the lack of attention to our fellow man? Hey, I’m not asking anyone to personally solve the problems, just wishing more of us would be part of the work toward seeking the solutions.
The reason for all this angst on my part is that on December 1 st our agency and all those in the HIV/AIDS community will mark World AIDS Day. I’m actually excited about the community event Health Services Center has planned for the Calhoun County Alabama area on Tuesday, Nov. 29 th at the Anniston City Meeting Center, free and open to the public. At 5:30 we will gather there for our Karen Morris Memorial AIDS Walk down Noble Street, and then we’ll return to the Meeting Center at 6:00 for our annual community reception, candle lighting, and remembrance. We have a great event planned this year, with refreshments, entertainment by Birmingham’s “Mother May I”, door prizes and fellowship.
It’s a time to remember, celebrate life, and to truly ponder where we stand in the fight against HIV and AIDS in our community. So many lives lost, so much sadness, and yet there is optimism and hope that we will continue to slow the number of new infections, reduce the number of AIDS related deaths, and dare we say; find a cure for this disease that has ripped a path of destruction around the world for well over 30 years now. The evening is family friendly, please join us. It may be cold on Tuesday evening, but dress warm and walk with us in solidarity, as a community united, to address this issue in our hometown, or at least stop by for a cup of coffee and a moment of reflection. Your presence would mean so much to us.
Karen Morris, the namesake for our annual Memorial AIDS Walk was a peer educator at our clinic here in Hobson City, Alabama. She was a white, middle aged female, who contracted HIV through unprotected sex with an old boyfriend she trusted. She was not from the South, but ended up here, ironically to care for her elderly parents. Once diagnosed as HIV positive she never looked back. Unapologetic, blunt, plain-spoken and passionate, she accompanied me and others as we provided HIV prevention education to the newly diagnosed, the community, schools, churches etc. She was a hoot! She would make the 200 mile round-trip ride with me to Montgomery Alabama each quarter to sit on the State’s HIV Prevention Council in partnership with the Alabama Dept. of Public Health. All the way down we would thoughtfully discuss what might be on the agenda and she would plan her remarks and what she “wanted to happen”. Often I would have a sore throat by the time we got there from talking so much! On the way home, she would rant and rave about the slow process, inaction, wasted time and energy, and how we could possibly light a fire under the ass of the “system”. Makes me smile just to remember her. She passed away several years ago from other health conditions unrelated to her HIV, and I miss her every day, no other advocate has stepped up to fill her shoes with such fire and passion. She would want us to keep doing this work no matter what; before her death she asked me to buy her a shirt she’d seen at a past conference. I’m so glad I brought it back for her…it read “Annoy them – Survive!”
If you are reading this and there is a World AIDS Day event in your town, please support it. The actual day set aside to observe World AIDS Day around the world is Dec. 1 st . Our local event is on Nov. 29 th this year because those of us who provide HIV testing and prevention services in this area have so many requests to provide testing, public speakers, health fairs etc. on Dec. 1 st , this caused us to reserve that day to help others with their events and plan our own community event for Nov. 29 th .
Since we are the only HIV specific medical clinic and AIDS Service Organization in a 9,000 square mile area of rural Alabama we get requests from schools, churches, businesses etc. to provide HIV related programs, including HIV testing and counseling etc. so we are sometimes stretched pretty thin, but we are always excited to get an invitation! There is still so much fear and stigma around HIV in the rural South (and around the world, for that matter), we are honored to respond when any group, club, school, etc. decides to educate and provide factual and practical information on HIV. If you are in N.E. Alabama and would like to speak with us about prevention education or testing, please call 866-832-0100 or check out our website www.hscal.org for more information, or contact the AIDS Service Organization (ASO) in your city.
Just a funny story about being invited to do AIDS education in the community. Years ago, early in the epidemic, a local church daycare asked me to educate their staff because a child had tested positive for “AIDS”, in their words. Glad to help out, I planned an evening of training and education for the volunteer daycare staff. After about an hour, one of the ladies approached me to say thank you for the information, she said we were so upset when we received the word from one of our “moms” that her child had been diagnosed with ADD…yup, you are reading that right. ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder; not A-I-D-S, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome!! They had all been so upset over a child’s ADD, thinking they had an HIV positive child in their daycare! You can’t help but giggle; at least the staff got a top notch HIV education training session!
As another year in the HIV prevention world winds down, I hope that you are safe and warm, well-fed and secure; but I beg you to remember that there are many in our community who are not. There are persons on your street who may be hungry, there are children in school with your child who are sexually active, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and don’t have the information they need to be safe from disease and unwanted pregnancy, there are senior citizens who are dating again after being widowed or divorced and they are not prepared for the risks of sexually transmitted diseases that are out there today because these diseases didn’t even exist when they were teenagers, and there are persons living with HIV in our community, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, young adults to seniors…just like you and me. When you make your annual charitable contributions at the end of the year, please remember that the small not-for profit organizations in your town are struggling with cuts in funding, many are cutting services, laying off valuable staff and ending life-saving programs due to loss of grant funds. Hey, I’ve told you before, I’m a trailer park kid, my hubby came from rural poverty, and we, like so many of you, live paycheck to paycheck; but I will not end my year saying “shoulda, woulda, coulda”. I will give of my time, my money, and my heart!
Don’t forget to join us for local World AIDS Day on Nov. 29 th !
Here are some World AIDS Day resources and links for you.
Pictorial Timeline of the epidemic
A Legacy of Care, Ryan White Care Act
The President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy
An AIDS Timeline
Alabama HIV Statistics