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The new faces of HIV/AIDS: Our Children

The condition known as leprosy was very well known in ancient history. Usually because of the fear associated with the disease and ignorance of the disease most societies were quick to label anyone with leprosy as an outcast. In fact, Jewish religion and law classified anyone who exhibited the symptoms of leprosy as unclean. In addition to having an ailment, which could be quite uncomfortable at times, people with leprosy had to suffer the indignities and humiliation associated with being unwanted by society.

Neither they nor their belongings were to come in contact with those who were free of the disease. They often went ignored. Victims of misunderstood diseases usually become nothing more than a statistic a nameless face in a sea of individuals who have had the good fortune to avoid the same problem. Modern medicine has since discovered the cause and cure for leprosy and a myriad of other socially isolating diseases, to include tuberculosis. Unfortunately, there is still a nameless face commonly overlooked today.

While the AIDS virus has become more manageable by the medical profession, the people with HIV/AIDS have continued to be labels as outcasts by society. The fear, dread, and ignorance associated with diseases of the past has now attached itself to the clean individuals of todays society. People living with HIV/AIDS have no clear features in society mainly because of the depersonalization, which has been applied to the condition and the victims of this new leprosy. The avoidance of this disease is painfully obvious when one considers how it is effecting our youth now and how it will affect our youth in the future.

Any disease carries some stigma and stereotype because of people’s desire to separate themselves from anything that reminds them of illness, disfigurement, disability, and, worst of all, death. People have, throughout history, stigmatized and stereotyped certain diseases more than others. These selected diseases have not necessarily been the most lethal or the most contagious. Leprosy, the prototype of a stigmatized disease, has low levels of both contagion and fatality. The primary characteristics associated with someone who is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is that they are either gay or an IV drug user.

The reality is that HIV/AIDS is prevalent in a multitude of groups. Yes, the homosexual community, as well as the drug community, has been hit extremely hard by this disease. In fact, awareness by these groups of their vulnerability has resulted in numerous extremely effective organizations being created to emphasis education and prevention. However, other groups affected just as hard, if not harder, include African American communities, Native American Communities, homeless communities, women and seniors.

These groups were heavily affected mainly because society chose to continue to hold on to the commonly held beliefs that this was a disease that affected homosexuals and drug users resulting in slow reaction time regarding education and prevention. Tragically, this propensity for turning a blind eye is resulting in the slow awareness that this disease is in a position to slaughter the youth of the world. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among people in the United States between the ages of 25 and 44 and the sixth leading cause among people ages 15 to 24.

Due to the long period of incubation between HIV and AIDS diagnosis, most in the age range between 20 and 24 were infected during their teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of December 1997, 3,130 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 had been infected and between the ages of 20 and 24, 22,953 cases were reported (CDC, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report 1997). That same report given as of December 1999 indicated the number has risen to 4,796 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 (CDC, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report 1999).

In the United States, a third of all new HIV infections are estimated to occur in people under the age of 21. Of course, this issue cannot be limited to the United States alone. UNAIDS has estimated that of the approximately 30 million people living with HIV globally, at least 30 percent are between the ages of 10 and 24 (Advocates for Youth). Zimbabwe is one of many international countries being heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. In 1997, approximately 360,000 children were orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe and the number is expected to increase to 1 million within the next 5 years.

The UN Population Division has projected that between the years 2000 and 2005 approximately 50 percent of all child deaths will be as a result of AIDS. The land of positive individuals is ever changing. Presently, 1,800 babies a day are born infected with HIV. Approximately, thirty million children will watch one or both parents die of AIDS during this decade (U. S. News). In the U. S. , among white females and males, it continues to be the seventh leading cause of death, sixth among Latino males and females, fifth among African American males, and third among African American females (Advocacy for Youth).

Vulnerability to AIDS is often engendered by a lack of respect for the rights of women and children, the right to information and education, freedom of expression and association, the rights to liberty and security, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to privacy and confidentiality. Where human rights such as these are compromised, individuals at risk of HIV infection may be prevented or discouraged from obtaining the necessary information, goods and services for self-protection.

Where people with AIDS risk rejection and discrimination, those who suspect they have HIV may avoid getting tested and taking precautionary measures, for fear of revealing their infection; they may even avoid seeking health care. Warnings about the growing threat of HIV and AIDS date back to the early and mid-1980s. But many people, from members of affected communities to leaders of global organizations, have failed to take them seriously. The Land of Poz is growing and our children are quickly becoming the major inhabitants.

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