Friday, May 11, 2007

Guest Writer Emanuel Stanley: The fight against AIDS is changing, but is far from over

Emanuel Stanley is a Disease Intervention Specialist for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. He is also a freelance writer and spoken word/rap lyricist.

Two years ago, “the monster” snuck up on my cousin and took his young life. AIDS first attacks the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. and gradually moves on to the brain and central nervous system. There is no early warning or detection system to visibly see AIDS coming, except by blood or oral testing, and many times, like in my cousin’s case, it’s already too late.

Recently, former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson was in Philadelphia to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and to talk to students about what measures need to be taken to reduce the rate of new infections. As a disease intervention specialist, I also conduct discussions about STD’s with high school students who ask more questions about HIV than any other disease.

After each presentation, some students choose to submit a urine sample for chlamydia and gonorrhea testing while others bombard me about how can they get tested for HIV?

In the hierarchy of disease control any pregnant female with an STD, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea and then chlamydia comes first. With the advent of African-American and Latino females becoming the No. 1 population demographic contracting HIV and eventually dying from AIDS, public health departments around this nation will have to redirect their efforts- via partner notification and other disease control measures- to help curtail this exponentially increasing threat. More federal funding will also be necessary to protect the unknowing and unsuspecting female from becoming infected or at least to be notified in a timely fashion about possible exposure to this deadly virus. This is a “right to know” and a “right to exist” issue.

One of the main reasons why African-American and Latino females are contracting HIV at a high and disproportionate rate is because of the relatively higher rate of men in these populations who participate in high-risk behavior. These men who are “On the DL” (Down Low/ secretly Bisexual), what I call “bridge gapers,” are the ones who help transmit HIV from the MSM (men who have sex with men) population to the straight heterosexual population. Prison sex also is having a major impact on these
females because some of their men are going in HIV negative and coming home positive. Also, recent statistics have indicated that one out of three prison males is raped; therefore, it might not be such a bad idea to encourage condom usage so that prison system won’t become a breeding ground for new infections.

It is not a hard stretch of the imagination to say that this country, within the next 10 years, may mirror the continent of Africa as it relates to the to the AIDS epidemic. The pool of undetected infections might be so great in the near future that our children may be playing Russian Roulette when it comes time for them to find a mate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the federal agency that can help lead the charge to address these serious public health issues.

In a translation of Epidemics, Hippocrates, considered to be the father of modern medicine, states: “Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to disease, make a habit of two things- to help, or at least to do no harm.”

Dedicated public health servants (taxpayers are our boss) have pledged to uphold our mission of “early detection, intervention and prevention of disease transmission, disability and death.” Through early detection and treatment, HIV becomes less of “monster” and more like a chronic disease which can help prolong people’s lives like Magic Johnson. If my cousin only knew.

*This article was originally published by the Bucks County Courier Times in Pennsylvania.

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