What does being HIV positive look like to you? Is it someone who has lost an unhealthy amount of weight, or someone bearing visible sores? Is it Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club or Tom Hanks in Philadelphia? Or perhaps you may have thought that the HIV virus isn’t really too much of a concern in the United States anymore, since we really don’t hear about it as much as we did back in the 1980’s.
And this is precisely why we need to keep on talking about it. I am grateful to be working with the CDC to help do my part by telling you that HIV doesn’t look like you might think. It could look like your friend, your relative, your workout buddy, or your neighbor. HIV positive could even look just like you.
HIV in the United States
About 50,000 people in the United States get infected with the HIV virus each year. There are about 1.2 million people in the United States who are HIV positive. Among them, about 13% (over 155,000 people) do not even know that they are infected.
Unfortunately, stigmas can discourage people from getting tested for the HIV virus, just as it can make others fear disclosing their status. Yet when left untreated, HIV is almost universally fatal – and can be transmitted to others.
One of the most fabulous benefits of becoming a writer is getting to meet people who inspire me from all walks of life and for all different reasons. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Maria Mejia-Laing, a tireless, fearless advocate for people living with an HIV positive diagnosis. She is a global ambassador for The Well Project, speaker, author, and advisor to several companies and organizations regarding living with HIV. Maria is without question one of those inspiring people whom I am honored to have met.
Her story of survival is so complex that it could make a Lifetime movie. Or more accurately, her story could probably take up three Lifetime movies. Yet her spirit is so bright that you can’t help but pay attention to her. It’s a good thing too, not only because it is a testament to her survival, but because the HIV community needs her strength and her spirit.
Maria speaks around the world about living with HIV, wanting everyone to know that the diagnosis is not a death sentence. It is, however, a life sentence. If you adopt a healthy lifestyle, do your research, and stay diligent about taking medications, you can have a long and productive life with HIV. For Maria, a healthy lifestyle includes eating nutritionally sound organic foods, detoxing, staying very well hydrated, and exercising daily. She also meditates, practices yoga, does Reiki, gets massage therapy, and does acupuncture. Maria does whatever it takes to keep her body pure, healthy and strong.
How We Can All Help
Maria shared with me that allies of the HIV positive community are so very important. They need us to share information and learn about the misinformation. They need us to share the faces of HIV, seeing that it comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, political beliefs, and religious affiliations. They need us to keep talking, keep learning, and keep trying to break through the stigmas associated with being HIV positive. We need to do it because HIV looks like all of us.
Additionally, we need better (and more realistic) sex education for our kids. If they aren’t getting it at school (since they often continue the age old and ineffective preaching of abstinence), then be sure to discuss it at home. Talk about the importance of using protection for more than avoiding a pregnancy, and about how HIV is transmitted.
We also need to encourage our friends and loved ones to get tested. Even if you have been with one consistent partner for several years, if you were ever at risk then they need to keep getting tested.
We have to raise awareness about an HIV positive diagnosis and living with the HIV virus. The CDC’s national campaign, Let’s Stop HIV Together, is helping to raise awareness of HIV and giving voice to people who are currently living with HIV. You can help spread the word and follow along on Twitter via #StopHIVTogether or #StopHIVStigma. You can also join the conversation on Facebook at ActAgainstAIDS, or head over to http://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/campaigns/lsht/getinvolved.html for more information about getting involved.
What to Know About an HIV Positive Diagnosis
Her advice for someone diagnosed with the HIV virus, in her own words, is this:
- Respect the virus. It not easy to live with HIV, but it is
- Continue to be very adherent, responsible, and diligent. You don’t get a day off from HIV.
- Listen closely to your body. As soon as you feel anything may be off from the norm, go to the Emergency Room right away. Complications can happen very quickly.
- Be proactive with your health. Do your own homework. Educate yourself as much as possible. Become your own advocate.
- Make sure you have a good team around you. Be sure to have doctors and healthcare practitioners who you trust.
HIV is still very present in this country, and as human beings, we’re all affected. Though a cure may be on the horizon, right now testing and protection are the only way to eradicate it. Fortunately for people who are living with HIV, with the proper treatment, precautions, and diligence, it doesn’t mean giving up on your hopes and dreams.
And if you or someone you know may be living with HIV, head to http://cdc.gov/hiv for more information.
Disclosure: This activation is made possible by the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.