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!

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Ebonni says:
December 1, 2009, 1:57 pm
It is great to read not only what can be done to support, but also how what we do everyday (dress) is making an impact. I look forward to reading more on the products you had in mind. "No Bull" blog has also supported the cause and creativity with fashion. Join us...
Goody says:
December 1, 2009, 2:03 pm
I blogged a bit earlier about the statistics and the epidemic that black women face. It is, as we enter 2010, jarring to me to know that "According to the CDC, among all women in the United States living with HIV/AIDS, 64 percent are African-American" I look forward to seeing you at the fundraiser.
Amber says:
December 1, 2009, 3:09 pm
I am also a huge advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention in black women. It is a scary thought that people are downplaying this virus as if it doesn't exist or kill. Please make a date with your partner and get tested. Know your status :)
Dad says:
December 1, 2009, 3:47 pm
Bella, Thanks for highlighting this global problem and citing the work done and still continues to be done at CAREC. Just one correction and that is, I joined CAREC in 1990 and their Special Programme on sexually transmitted disesaes was already established.PAHO, UNAIDS and CDC have all assisted CAREC in this cause. D
Glam says:
December 1, 2009, 6:30 pm
The best thing a person can do is get tested to know their status and protect themselves.
Clara says:
December 2, 2009, 1:04 am
My dad is a doctor,who cared for many HIV + patients and I saw first hand the impact this disease has on families.Here in Africa,women are unable to negotiate condom use or turn to prostitution to provide for the family.
Laurie says:
December 2, 2009, 11:15 am
What a great event! I wish that I was in Chicago. How did it go? A few years ago I blogged in the annual Blogathon for 24 hours to raise money for Project RED and their AIDS campagin.
Be Regret Free says:
December 2, 2009, 2:28 pm
Please check out this HIV/AIDS awareness psa on you tube: Please leave a comment if you pass through. your feedback is greatly appreciated!
Chatty Patty says:
December 3, 2009, 2:12 am
I'm so tired of people preaching abstinence as if that will solve this epidemic. I'm happy that you mention that. Church's should educate their teens and young adults on the importance of using protection and even go as far as providing condoms. To me this is not saying its okay to have sex, but if you are going to do it, do it the right way. My cousin died last year of the virus and I have another friend that is currently living with AIDS! We all need to know our status and continue to get tested every year. Great post!
Purple says:
December 3, 2009, 3:28 am
Thanks for highlighting this important issue Afrobella. HIV and AIDS has been quite devastating in Kenya, and though new infections are on the decrease, there are a number of alarming trends. A lot of good work has been done educating the youth, but the older generation has been neglected and their rate of infection is now higher than the younger people. Most alarming of all, new infection rates are now higher within marriages.
Clara says:
December 3, 2009, 5:06 am
Purple,you are Kenyan?
Purple says:
December 3, 2009, 1:15 pm
Yes, I am:)
Clara says:
December 7, 2009, 9:04 pm
I get so excited meeting Kenyans on the web,especially if they are on sites like this. Pleased to meet you.


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