The Faces of HIV

the faces of hivphoto from http://www.wemakethechange.com/faces/

Roy: And what is my diagnosis, Henry?

Henry: You have AIDS, Roy.

Roy: No, Henry, no.  AIDS is what homosexuals have.  I have liver cancer. [1]

Oftentimes, it seems as if HIV/AIDS is a faceless epidemic that people do not want to speak about or associate themselves with.  However in reality, the virus is something that everyone, regardless of status, must confront because it affects so many people and communities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the end of 2009, an estimated 1,148,000 persons aged 13 and older were living with the HIV infection in the United States. [2]

Even though studies show that HIV is rampant in our modern day society, its is still a very difficult issue to confront.  As a result, there are many inaccurate perceptions about the disease that are being perpetuated by stereotypes.  Such misconceptions about HIV/AIDS are harmful and do a disservice to all people by furthering collective, perpetual ignorance.

The other day, I was watching a television show in which one of the characters lamented that she was afraid of contracting AIDS from an unwashed swimsuit.  This example, along with Roy’s grossly inaccurate coupling of AIDS and homosexuality, are just a few of the many detrimental stereotypes about the contraction of HIV/AIDS and those who have been touched by it.  For this reason, We Make the Change works to combat not only the spread of HIV itself, but also the spread of misinformation that is oftentimes associated with the disease.

We Make the Change is a campaign throughout the state of Florida that seeks to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS and its impact on communities of color.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2011, there has been a total of 486,282 and 202,182 AIDS diagnoses in black and Latino populations, respectively, since the beginning of the epidemic in 1981. [3]  Specifically, in Florida as of 2008, 48.8% of the AIDS diagnoses within the state were from the African American population. [4]  Due to such high rates of HIV/AIDS in Florida communities, the Florida Department of Health launched We Make the Change in 1998 in order to educate Floridians about the spread of the HIV infection and to provide people with prevention programs and services.

As part of the campaign, We Make the Change presents a mobile art exhibit called “The Faces of HIV”, which works to destigmatize the virus by introducing important visual components to the conversation. The exhibit uses portraits, interviews, Question and Answer sessions, and journal writings to humanize HIV/AIDS and the people who have been affected by the disease.  “The Faces of HIV” confronts its audience by forcing people to recognize that anyone can contract HIV, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race.   “The Faces of HIV” volunteers do an invaluable service to the exhibit and the larger We Make the Change campaign by candidly sharing their personal journeys and truths in order to educate people about the disease and to encourage routine HIV testing.

Works Cited
[1] Kushner, Tony, Angels In America (New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 1992), 46.
[2] Statistics Overview, “HIV Prevalence Estimate”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.
[3]  Statistics Overview, “AIDS Diagnoses, by Race/Ethnicity”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.
[4] Statistics Overview, “State-by-State HIV Infection and AIDS Data”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.

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