Help Me to Stop the Hurting

As I reflect on World AIDS Day, I think about how every December 1, we remember and think back to the beginning of this epidemic. As we move past December 1, I ask you not to let it be a single day to mark on the calendar.

We've reached a point where we have multiple awareness days to recognize the various places that HIV touches and influences our lives. While powerful and committed activists and advocates work year-round to change the course of the epidemic, the sad truth is that we will never be able to do this work alone. I am asking you to stop the hurting. You do not need to be an HIV specialist to make a difference in this epidemic. As a matter of fact, there are some simple things that can be done to help all of us.

There are structural things that affect and influence this epidemic that, if corrected, would benefit us all in the long run. So in awareness of World AIDS Day, I ask you to do something for you -- for your community. Find something below and work towards helping achieve it; let your contribution be more than a red ribbon.

Each of the project areas below will allow you to work locally while making a national or global impact. This epidemic gains its power and strength because of our lack of education and misinformation. Knowing your status and understanding how the science has advanced on a basic level can make a major difference in the spread of HIV. When we know better, we do better, and knowing has to start at the beginning. Provide the needed tools and skills to help make people better, and our society with it.

Comprehensive sex education

Access to age-appropriate sex education is a critical piece that can be supported locally. Currently, young people are denied tools and skills to make positive decisions about their health and wellness. "Research has identified highly effective sex education and HIV prevention programs that affect multiple behaviors and achieve positive health impacts." The same research found that comprehensive sex education and HIV/ STI prevention programs, specifically, lower the age at which youth initiate sex or increase the frequency or number of sexual partners among sexually active youth.

Instead, it ensures young people can make responsible decisions about their sexual health. In the end, the argument is simple, we have to support appropriate sex education and a start in the right direction -- informed, evidence-based conversations involving parents, school administrators and, most importantly, young people. We live in the world where sex is a constant theme in nearly everything we view, listen to and read. It is important we make certain our young people have the skills they need to make the best health decisions for themselves.

Stigma
I implore you to take a stand against stigma. In the world where conversations about HIV are radically changing, stigma still kills. It remains a large barrier to health equity and ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Lack of education breeds intolerance and lack of understanding, which can have deadly outcomes. Advances in HIV science are changing the way we talk about HIV, but we still have a long way to go.

Even with public announcements about living with HIV from actors Danny Pintauro and Charlie Sheen, fears and misconceptions about HIV continue to dominate the conversation, impacting our ability to end this epidemic. The effects of stigma manifest across the spectrum of HIV. For instance, one study found that 59% of men who had never been tested for HIV cited fear of negative social consequences as an important reason for not seeking to test. Stigma and fear keep us from making appropriate decisions about our health. We must remember to see the commonalities that bind us together as we fight to end HIV.

Advocating for comprehensive sex education and confronting stigma are two ways you can act locally and think globally. These actions help to make an impact beyond December 1. It is a chance to say next year that you supported something that made a difference. If we make steps across the two outlined areas above, we can make huge strides against HIV, but also in healing our communities. Two areas to change the course of this work, two things to ensure your power and voice are felt. This is a chance to bend the arc of justice towards justice -- toward a brighter future. Simple actions by committed folks will change the course of our world. And you will, indeed, help stop the hurting, slowly it will end the bleeding. Each year we see this disease claim new lives; we feel its effects on our community. It is the time we stopped hurting and stopped adding names to the list of those gripped in the hold of HIV.