AIDS is a unique disease, in that it is fatal, incurable, and preventable. Technically, in fact, people do not die of AIDS; people die from “opportunistic infections” that afflict those whose immune systems have been destroyed by the disease process. And while it is the case that better medications, treatment, and knowledge about the disease are helping people live longer and better with HIV, the disease that can lead to AIDS, this doesn’t mean there is now a cure for AIDS. The medicines are costly, treatment is complicated and requires patient cooperation for its effectiveness.
So people who have become complacent about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS — including many young people, who seem to believe that “there’s a pill for that now” — don’t take the precautions they need to take to prevent the spread of AIDS. This is one reason young people, and especially young women, are more and more the ones who show up with newly diagnosed cases of HIV. Knowledge, taking the disease seriously, and recognizing that “it happens here” and not just to “other people” in “other places,” contributes to prevention. Celeste talked of her sadness and frustration, as an AIDS educator and counselor, at seeing young people who have acquired HIV+ status; one of her missions is to make that number ever smaller.
Celeste pointed out that AIDS is a special concern for women. The incidence of HIV/AIDS among women is on the rise, as is the incidence of cases attributable to heterosexual transmission. It is particularly important for women to know their own HIV status, to have frank and open communication with their partners, and to protect themselves. Women often do not know they have the disease, until they become pregnant; at that point, while there are treatments that can reduce the risk of having a baby who is also infected with HIV, it is too late to prevent illness for the woman. Women’s situation illustrates the complex factors that encourage silence and false complacency with respect to AIDS, that are connected with “the way people get AIDS.”
There is still an enormous stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, Celeste said. Many of her clients hide their status from significant others in their lives, including their adult children, suffering the isolation and stress that comes with secret keeping. That very fact indicates the depth of shame and self-blame people with HIV/AIDS can feel. That shame is still fueled by the many others who reject and demonize HIV/AIDS patients. Combatting that sense of shame is another of Celeste’s missions. Here, because AIM is an agency which takes the life of the spirit seriously, mobilizing spiritual resources is vitally important. Celeste spoke highly of partners in this ministry, including Central Presbyterian Church, which hosts a monthly dinner for HIV/AIDS sufferers and their friends and caregivers, which is a much-needed occasion for sociality and human connection.We are grateful to Celeste Anderson for taking the time to join us last night, and to share her knowledge and experience with us. We learned much from her — and enjoyed meeting her daughter, as well, who made two dynamic, colorful posters! We look forward to seeing her on Sunday, at the Louisville AIDS Walk registration tent. The money we raise by walking and finding sponsors will go to fund AIM’s work in the coming year, as well as the work of 10 other agencies who work with Louisville area HIV/AIDS sufferers, their caregivers, and families.