When notable figures or major campaigns come to a decisive end it is marked in history as their last stand. Napoleon met his downfall at Waterloo in June 1815, and George Custer is immortalized by his famous rout at Little Bighorn in June 1876.
June 2016 will soon be remembered for another last stand — the end of HIV/AIDS. Monday is National HIV Testing Day, and we can come together to make South Florida the site of HIV/AIDS’ last stand. South Florida is the nexus for new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will also be where we end the disease.
Increased awareness is the first step in ending HIV/AIDS. When HIV/AIDS exploded into American culture in the 1980s and ’90s, there was an overwhelming response. Media coverage initially associated HIV/AIDS with gay, white men. The illness was seen as a death sentence, and the infected were treated like pariahs.
There was a groundswell of support to fight the disease. There were fund-raising campaigns and telethons to raise money for care and a cure. There were television ads; billboards promoting HIV/AIDS awareness lined the roads.
Those efforts made significant strides.
Today, HIV/AIDS has a new face. The CDC reports that African Americans are the largest ethnic group of new HIV cases. They accounted for 41 percent of new cases in 2014. It is even more startling that heterosexual African-American women are the largest subgroup of new cases, after gay men.
The changing face of HIV/AIDS has brought about a change in public response. Media coverage has faded. Gone are the frequent television ads and billboards. Gone are the telethons. Most incredible, the state of Florida has decreased funding for public health while at the same time it has become the epicenter for new HIV cases.
Complacency has set in. People with the disease are living longer, which has created a false sense of security. However, we must remain vigilant and stem the tide of new HIV/AIDS cases in South Florida by taking action.
The next step to ending HIV/AIDS is by getting tested and knowing your status. Another alarming statistic from the CDC is that one in nearly six African Americans who are HIV-positive do not know that they have the disease because they haven’t taken the test. When I served in the Florida Legislature, I sponsored a bill, which passed, requiring all inmates leaving Florida prisons to be tested for HIV/AIDS. My goal was to connect them to care and to avoid unintentional transmission.
The fight to end HIV/AIDS does not end with taking the test. We have to take control by connecting HIV-positive Americans to care. Medical professionals can help to suppress the disease and educate patients on how to avoid spreading it. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, and HIV-positive Americans can be productive members of society with proper care.
Today will be HIV/AIDS’ last stand. I am taking the test to commemorate National HIV Testing Day. Other elected officials and community leaders will join me. We will be at six health centers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The locations include the Frederica Wilson and Juanita Mann Health Center, Jessie Trice Community Health Center, New Horizons Community Mental Health Center, Center for Haitian Studies and Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami-Dade County; and the Koinonia Worship Center in Broward.
Testing is supported by the Florida Department of Health of Miami-Dade County and Broward County, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), and Care Resource.
HIV/AIDS was first noted in the United States in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of June 5, 1981. In the 35 years since then, almost 700,000 Americans have since died from HIV/AIDS.
Thirty-five years from now, history will tell the story of how South Florida was the site of HIV/AIDS’ last stand. But first, we must “Take Notice, Take the Test, and Take Control.”
Get tested, South Florida.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami represents Florida’s 24th District in Congress.