By Special to the Daily World
WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. John Lewis recently donned a red pin to commemorate World AIDS Day and took time to visit the AIDS Memorial Quilt panels displayed on Capitol Hill. The Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus co-chaired by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) in conjunction with the World AIDS Institute sponsored an exhibit on the U.S. Capitol campus of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt and of portraits representing 30 years of AIDS to underscore the continuing work to be done to rid the world of this disease.
The exhibit honors more than 30 million people around the world who have died from AIDS, the 70 million who have been infected with HIV, and individuals like the late Elizabeth Taylor, Diana, the Princess of Wales, and others who dedicated part of their charitable lives to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was a series of 44,000, 3-by-6-foot panels that commemorate the life of an individual who has died from AIDS. The panels were created by partners, family and friends when AIDS had reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The entire quilt was displayed on the National Mall in 1987.
The face of the epidemic has changed since 1987; HIV/AIDS has reached alarming rates in the Southern region.
· 46 percent of the new AIDS diagnoses in America were in the South.
· Of the estimated 455,636 (including children) persons living with AIDS, 40 percent live in the South.
· Of the estimated 14,110 (including children) persons who died with AIDS 50 percent died in the South.
· The Southern region has the largest proportion of AIDS cases in nonurban areas in the country.
Perhaps most alarming are the statistics affecting college-aged Black youngsters.
· African Americans now account for the majority of new AIDS diagnoses, making up 61 percent of all new cases, followed by Whites (24 percent), and Hispanic/Latinos (14 percent).
* Black men represented 65 percent of new HIV infections; a rate six times that of White men, three times that of Hispanic/Latino, and twice that of Black women
* The rate of new HIV infections for Black women was 15 times higher than White women, four times higher than Hispanic/Latina women
* Young Black between the ages of 13-29 represent the largest number of new HIV infections.
Rep. Lewis is HIV tested every year in an effort to break down the barriers of fear for ordinary citizens who should get tested regularly. He is a member of the Congressional HIV/AIDS caucus created to examine how Congress can encourage U.S. global leadership in response to the epidemic, and a proponent of releasing the shame and stigma associated with the disease.
“Because of advances in medical science and because people came out of the closet, shared their stories, and pushed for direct action regarding this disease,” said Lewis, “the presence of HIV or AIDS is no longer a death sentence. It is treated today like a chronic illness which need not completely rearrange a person’s life. There is still an epidemic in this country, however, within the African-American community. We must bring the victims out of the dark corners to receive treatment and show them how to live with this disease with grace. We must also educate, educate and educate our young people with the facts and tell them about the epidemic to prevent their infection.”
Worldwide AIDS Day was celebrated last week.