December 1 is World AIDS Day, and while many health workers and activists around the world are fighting for a voice for the AIDS epidemic, the issue also affects many close to home.
The Vermont Health Department estimates that there are at least 100 people in the state who are unaware that they are infected with HIV or AIDS.
Mike Clark, a board member of the Vermont People with AIDS Coalition, thinks that if everyone is getting tested and treated, this generation has the potential to prevent further spread of the disease. “All we really need is for people to start getting on to medication and getting a regiment so they are no longer un-detectable. Once we receive that, we have the potential to be the generation that ends the existence of HIV/AIDS … [or at least] I think we have the potential to not have any more people who are diagnosed,” Clark says.
Clark speaks from personal experience. Since being diagnosed HIV positive in 2000, his partner of 17 years has remained HIV negative throughout their relationship. “It’s something we’ve been very conscious about, making sure he remains negative, and it’s possible to do. Not with abstinence, but just being careful, using protection, and doing the things that have been recommended,” Clark says.
Clark has seen the HIV/AIDS conversation shift in the past 15 years, especially within the younger generations. When first diagnosed, he and his siblings made a conscious decision not to tell his nieces and nephews about his diagnosis. After it became public knowledge and they were forced to tell the children, Clark was surprised at their reaction. “They were all educated. They had learned about HIV in school, they knew the difference between HIV and AIDS, and they did a lot to help myself, my siblings and my parents to understand,” Clark says.
The high level of public knowledge and education of HIV/AIDS in youth has shifted since then, Clark thinks. “This past weekend I was talking with my younger niece, who is 9, and I was asking her if she knew what [World AIDS Day] was and if she wanted to go to the events with me. She had no knowledge of HIV or HIV/AIDS,” Clark says.
Clark views this shift in knowledge as both a positive and negative. “It’s good because it means that people aren’t talking about it because there isn’t as much fear,” Clark explains. “But because it’s not being discussed anymore, people are still fearful and quiet about it, which I think presents a problem for people who are HIV positive and don’t want to get tested and acknowledge their diagnosis.”
To learn more about World AIDS Day, or for information on vigils and events throughout the state, visit the Vermont People With AIDS Coalition’s website here.