Focusing On The AIDS Fight

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

I primarily commute to and from work on the bus, and said bus is generally laden with public health placards. Whatever the p.o.v. of the placard in question, fear tactics are the fashion — a round, zoned out kid playing video games headlined with "the couch kills," a circle of kids playing ring around the rosie reads something like, "When the game ends and they all fall down, everyone hops back up again except Sarah... Sarah doesn't have health insurance.*" There's one poster, however, that I remember with crystal clarity: "One in twenty D.C. residents has HIV." Holy cow — now that's a sobering statistic. And it's been that way for years. New national HIV numbers are out, and unfortunately, the news isn't good. Turns out, the CDC has been underestimating the number of cases significantly, though the rate of infection has remained fairly constant. There's also a lot of new information on which populations are most affected. We want to know more about the people behind the numbers, specifically. Black people account for 45% of new infections, but why? And, infections are particularly high in the South — what's going on there? NPR's Brenda Wilson and Dr. Robert Johnson, who treats HIV positive teens, join us today to get at the stories behind the numbers.

*Ok, it's probably a bit zippier than that. Forgive me — one, I'm not in advertising, and there's a reason for that. Two, I see these placards either before I've had my coffee or at the end of a long day, so I'm doing the best I can here.



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I suggest that everyone get tested. I went with a friend who had a scare due to an unsafe encounter, and, as a show of solidarity, got tested myself ... only to find that I am HIV positive. This was quite a shock due to what I perceived to be a safe sexual history. If can get it, so can anyone. Testing is painless nowadays, as most clinics have oral swabs, and you can get you results in minutes. Plus the disease is quite treatable if detected early.

Sent by Eric | 2:15 PM | 8-5-2008

I would think with gay people the risks will always be higher, because there are high rates of depression among gay people. I think depression should definitely be considered a risk factor in contracting HIV. I would assume many minorities or groups that are oppressed would also have high rates of depression, even if it isn't reported. Couldn't this be a factor in these statistics?

Sent by SIM | 2:16 PM | 8-5-2008

I have been tested for HIV every 6 months for more than 20 years and am living proof that, despite being in a high-risk group (I am a sexually active gay man), education and proper preventative practice can prevent transmission of the disease. Each of my long-term partners has been HIV+

It is disappointing that ignorance and prejudice continue to contribute to the spread of HIV after decades since the emergence of the disease.

I would encourage all sexually-active people to get tested, get educated and get treatment if necessary. Knowing one's status can help prevent further exposure to others.

Sent by Douglas | 2:19 PM | 8-5-2008

I am a young white female from Colorado. I have been tested several times when I had multiple partners because if I had HIV for any reason I would want to know so that I could not unknowingly give it to another person. Also it is a test you love to fail.

Sent by Dana | 2:29 PM | 8-5-2008

I encourage that everyone get tested, even if you believe you are in a monogamous, you may not be. I discovered that my partner of 3 years has had safe and unsafe sex with a number of individuals over those three years. When I found this out, I immediately got tested. I took me two days to get the results and it was the longest two days of my life. Luckily I tested negative, but it goes to show you that even if you are in a monogamous relationship, you may not be. It happens more than people think.

Sent by Clint | 2:42 PM | 8-5-2008

I have always been an advocate for safe sex and prevention practices. However, I was a hypocrite. I was a single white female who had only had two or three partners by the age of 28, but had never been tested myself. I got the opportunity during an AIDS week at UNC, and decided to get tested. I was negative, and now when I advocate for prevention, I can honestly say that I have been tested myself. I agree that everybody should get tested.

Sent by Sandy | 2:42 PM | 8-5-2008

I was just listening to TOTN's discussion of HIV/AIDS. Your guest responded to a caller's concern about insurance coverage with mention of the Americans' with Disabilities Act. The ADA does not cover HIV/AIDS under it's umbrella.

As someoen living with HIV for 213 years and diagnosed with AIDS in 2000, I can tell you that getting insurance unless it is offered through an employer is impossible. My medication costs per MONTH top $2500. My wife and I own a small business and I am absolutely unable to get health or life insurance coverage.

Also, the stigma is still there. People are more polite about it now than they were in the 80's & 90's. For most American's HIV is so outside their consciousness. It never occurs to them that the person next to them (me) is living with AIDS.

They always think it is "those people" (whoever those people are, I don't know). As long as we see this disease as striking only certain groups, we'll never beat it.

Thank you for devoting time to HIV/AIDS. People forget it is still here.

Sent by Teo | 2:43 PM | 8-5-2008

Restructure blood banks so that routine testing is provided with confidential results given back to the donor at the time of the donation. This would provide a cost-effective method to screen the entire population on a routine basis and protect the blood supply.

Sent by Susan | 2:44 PM | 8-5-2008

Will a routine physical, in which blood is taken, test for HIV?

Sent by Ted | 2:47 PM | 8-5-2008

I am a college professor and I recognized the voice of your caller, "Monica," as one of my best former students. Her fear of being tested was hard to hear and suggested to me (who knew her well) that she suspects that she is in a dangerous relationship. She might need hearing from her old mentor. Can you put me in touch with her? both of us have moved since whe was my student in the early 2000's.

Sent by Mary Bivins | 2:50 PM | 8-5-2008

Armistead Maupin writes with humor and honesty about living with AIDS since the beginning of the desease or before. His characters have dealt with most of the issues, including honesty and responsibility to yourself and your partners and friends. His latest book - "Michael Tolliver Lives" is filled with hope and humor. The book is more about aging gracefully with AIDS an love as the background. His characters actually live such ordinary lives but confront HIV on all levels. I have read him for years and was delighted that he came out with a new chaper in the lives of his characters

Sent by Judith J Cole | 2:51 PM | 8-5-2008

In every sexual relationship I've been in since the start of the epidemic, I've had myself and my partner get tested. I've been fortunate in that all of my sexual partners (and no, there haven't been many) have been HIV-negative and monogamous, as have I.

I am facing life on the dating circuit once more with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. The heartless and mindless social conservatives who have been gloating over the rise of HIV/AIDS since the early 1980's are still admonishing us, with barely-concealed glee, that the only choices we poor sinners have are to either give up sex entirely, enter marriages which may or may not be appropriate for us, or die.

I would like to remind these and other like-minded people that we single people don't necessarily plan to resign ourselves to taking cold showers every day until Prince or Princess Charming shows up, and that marriage vows apparently break a lot more often than condoms do. Furthermore, sweating out an indefinite period of self-imposed celibacy doesn't work for a lot of people and can result in risky behavior when the dam of self-denial inevitably bursts.

Almost every activity in life carries risks. We do all we can to minimize those risks. When I drive, I make certain that I am clear-headed and sober. I wear a seat belt every time I drive, no ifs, ands or buts. And if driving conditions really look unfavorable, I make other plans.

In other words, you only get one life to live, and while caution is certainly warranted, you might want to think twice before you deny yourself one of its greatest pleasures.

Sent by David | 3:26 PM | 8-5-2008

I can't believe Christopher Dickey just said that young people don't vote, which he's basing on the fact that young people were unable to elect John Kerry in 2004.

Seriously?? Really?

Young people turned out in DROVES for primaries and caucuses this year. And we've seen an upward trend in youth participation.

In 2004 young people 18-29 were the ONLY demographic that voted for John Kerry. That's why he didn't win - because no one BUT young people voted for him. Its not the fault of the youth, they did their part.

In 2006 18-29 year old voters came out more than people over 65 did.

So... there ya go. Learn more about young voters and youth politics at You might learn something.

Sent by Ally Klimkoski | 3:33 PM | 8-5-2008

The caller who mentioned he runs a program that advocates HIV testing, yet has not been tested himself disgusted me. His reason for not being tested? He does not engage in having sex with multiple people. How can one person who is supposed to be knowledgable about transmission (not to mention teaching others) be so ignorant in his reasoning. I feel very sad for him and I hope he opens his eyes. I personally feel he is afraid and I hope he will find the strength to overcome his fears.

Sent by Sara | 4:25 PM | 8-5-2008

I was concerned about the guest's comment that if you are HIV+ all you have to do now is take one pill a day and it will be just a chronic condition. I believe that is a cavalier comment. Although HIV is now a chronic condition as opposed to a fatal diagnosis, treatment can be complex. There are people who can take one pill a day but that is not the norm. I am HIV+ and take 8 pills a day. I don't believe that we want to send the message that HIV is no big deal. It is an extremely serious disease that requires lifetime commitment to taking meds on time and practicing safe sex. People should get tested because the earlier the disease is caught, the better the outcome, not because all you have to do is take a pill and it's OK.

Sent by Margaret Lawrence | 8:16 AM | 8-6-2008