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Start discussions and take action when it comes to stopping the HIV/AIDS pandemic

I've certainly been to more than my share of services for those who have lost the fight against HIV/AIDS. As an activist, counselor and mentor, I've had too many young people share with me in confidence that they are HIV-positive.

I see the need for us to do much more than we're doing now.

The staggering numbers simply don't have to be. As more funding for prevention efforts is taken away, it becomes incumbent among communities to take on HIV and eliminate the stigma to talk about it in order to save lives. This includes parents, schools, churches and even bars, including outreach with condoms. I'd like to see HIV screening/testing set up in churches, as well as opportunities to discuss the necessity for safer sex. The more we take a "moral" position as our kids are dying, the less likely we'll be to get our own place/seat/space in heaven (or wherever those who believe they've done their best and truest works go).

Wherever there are people, discussions need to be happening. This is no longer just an epidemic; it's a pandemic. Too many children are being affected and infected, and too many are becoming orphans or dying from AIDS-related complications themselves.

Real conversations with real options make this devastating disease beatable. Silence kills.

Services seem to vary across the country, depending on how involved communities are in acknowledging that this disease even exists. I've walked and talked myself dizzy saying the same things and trying to get young people to hear me. More upsetting is the number of mature adults, those 40 and older, who won't get tested, because they're sure their mate is monogamous. Reality check: You only know what you do.

Also disheartening is the rising number of cases in the senior population, as young women are targeting seniors for sexual play and pay--when Social Security checks come in. Not only are seniors getting played out of their checks, but also out of healthy living. Too many seniors are becoming infected and do not get diagnosed fast enough, because many doctors don't/won't test them. Plus, many divorcees re-entering the dating game after years of monogamy and aren't quite sure how to ask a potential intimate partner about his/her sexual history. Not only had we better start having these conversations, but we'd better get fluent with them. You can get an OraSure HIV screening, complete with results, in an hour. If your potential lover can't afford that amount of time to ensure that you're both clean, you should see red flags. This is a matter of life and death.

I've attended conferences, breakfasts and lunches which were dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, and I learn each time that black people are less likely to respond to treatment and less likely to be tested because of cultural stigmas.

Each time I talk with a 19- or 20-year-old who asks for my confidence as they disclose their status, I'm hurt from the core. I've been passing out condoms for years, along with a discussion to wait until you're ready and to always, always love yourself first.

As the numbers rise and AIDSWALK-type events around the country continue, I wonder what else we can do as parents, activists and lovers.

If you're looking for a cause to participate in, please join what will hopefully be thousands of others as they come out on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the UA, for AIDSWALK 2007. Registration begins at 6:30 a.m. Call 791-9255 (WALK) or visit aidswalktucson.com for more information.

There will be events all day, including after-walk festivities, closing ceremonies, food, fun, kids' entertainment and live music. Walk for someone you know, love or have never met. Make a difference.

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