Little known fact about me — for years and years, my father worked for CAREC, the Caribbean Epidemiology Center. So it seems that my whole life, I’ve been aware of the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Courtenay Bartholomew diagnosed the first case of AIDS in the West Indies around 1985. In 1986, workers at CAREC helped to start and develop a special program on sexually transmitted infections, meant to educate people and combat some of the ignorance that existed (and unfortunately continues to exist) about HIV.
“We learned that most of the ignorance existed amongst older men and young people. Teenagers and kids, especially,” my father recalls. Some of the stories my dad told me would make your brain ache. For example — Caribbean children in their early stages of sexual experimentation have been known to use the plastic bags used for “pennakool” or freezies, as “condoms.” CAREC realized early on that they had to go outside the box to combat this kind of ignorance.
“Well, we didn’t preach abstinence as the Catholic Church did, because we felt the reality was that young children were experimenting. You can’t ignore reality. Abstinence is a good thing to talk about, it’s the preferred and ideal thing…but it isn’t practical. You can’t lose sight of the reality that young people are having sex and are not being informed about the dangers they are facing.”
When AIDS education began in Trinidad — just as it happened around the world — the disease was originally perceived as being a “homosexual disease.” Initially CAREC organized educational conferences for men who had sex with men. Then they realized the problem was larger than that. They soon realized that HIV/AIDS affected everyone. Men, women, children – regardless of sexuality or ethnicity — were at risk.
“The problem is that people think that they’re invincible. They think, that one-in-a-million could never be me. That’s one of the biggest problems. People think who looks clean on the outside must be clean on the inside, and make assumptions based on appearances rather than test results,” my dad added. And today, he believes people don’t realize that HIV and AIDS hasn’t gone away.
“Nowadays it is not seen or treated by many people as still being a disease you can’t survive. Back in those days, AIDS equaled a death sentence. But when you see people like Magic Johnson living what seems to be a normal life, or realize many people with AIDS can treat it with medicines and survive…people are quick to downplay its danger.”
Today is the 21st annual World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS was first discovered in 1981, and it has claimed the lives of over 25 million people around the world. Even though every generation today knows that AIDS exists and that anyone can get it, the need for awareness and education continues. This is why I am proud and happy to support The Red Pump Project, which seeks to educate everyone about the impact of the disease. Tomorrow night at Ai Sushi Restaurant and Lounge, we’re hosting Say RED…Cocktails and Conversation, a festive fundraiser all in the name of AIDS awareness and education. Please click here to RSVP, come out, show love, and participate in our silent auction. It’s all for an important cause.
And if you don’t live in Chicago and can’t come out to party with us, hang tight. My next post will be about products you can purchase to support charities on this very important day!