Asheville's Michael Harney prepares to head to D.C. for the XIX International AIDS Conference
Summertime, Sunshine and SpeedosÂ® may be the general theme across this state and nation right now, but I never forget HIV, STDs and Hepatitis can easily be part of those three without vigilance and reminders to stay alert and prepared with condoms, lube, and clean needles. In June, we get our annual media push from the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), napwa.org, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hivtest.org, to get tested for HIV â€” to know our status (today, June 27 is National HIV Testing Day).Â Youâ€™ve heard or seen these messages, right? Did you do anything about it? Take a friend or your mate and get tested together. Though the recommendation from the CDC is that all people ages 13 to 64 get tested regularly for HIV, you may know someone older than that, and it wouldnâ€™t be a bad idea to take him or her along too.Â After all, almost one-fourth of persons living with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. are 50 and older (cdc.gov/hiv/topics/over50/resources/factsheets/over50.htm). These tests are free at any North Carolina county health department (ncalhd.org/county.htm). Call 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to find out where to get tested if you donâ€™t have computer access to the internet. Perhaps you are not able to get tested in June; donâ€™t fret. HIV testing is available all year long. However, what we may not hear as much about all year is the latest in the fields of HIV/AIDS, STDs and Hepatitis. A great opportunity to do so is by attending or following coverage of the XIX International AIDS Conference which will be held in Washington D.C., July 22-27, 2012 (aids2012.org or kff.org). Iâ€™ll be there, and in August will report back to you some of my observations and what I learned. There will be two excellent venues open to the general public free of charge during the conference week. First, you wonâ€™t want to miss the full exhibit of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (Quilt2012.org or poz.com/quilt). You will be able to view all 47,000 panels of the Quilt and hear the reading of the 94,000 names.Â This collection has not been on full display since 1996; and because of its size now, it will fill not only the one-mile length of the National Mall, but also the grounds at other monuments in D.C. Second is the Global Village near the convention hall.Â Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed this part of the international AIDS conferences.Â From all parts of the world â€” people representing 190 or more countries â€” there will be things to buy, touch, read, see and experience. For example, there may be a table of beaded crafts made by women living in Uganda or South Africa, and being sold to support an outreach program for women or youth living with HIV/AIDS. There may be a dance troupe from Thailand whose production reaches public sex workers in rural communities. I have to save enough money to buy a few T-shirts with safer-sex messages in German, French, Spanish, Thai and Hebrew, among others. The posters being given away could wall-paper my office; the music will take you to far-away lands. Bring the entire family. We havenâ€™t had this conference in the U.S. for 22 years. It is bound to be one of the best, and especially relevant in the midst of the U.S. election campaign. In my world of prevention/education at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) in Asheville, wncap.org, there exist pages more to write about for qnotes and its readers. By now you may have moved on to some of the websites above or to the next article, but in case youâ€™re still with me, the last brief reminders Iâ€™ll share with you include recent news that gonorrhea is more and more resistant to antibiotic treatment â€” which makes me want to practice putting on a condom right now, even if I am not doing anything to be exposed to it tonight; and that syringe exchange programs â€” several of which exist in North Carolina (harmreduction.org for resources/connect locally) â€” are an important basic component to reducing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis and other blood-borne pathogens among persons who would otherwise share injecting equipment. Controversial as some make them out to be, if the state wonâ€™t implement the very basics including increased condom distribution and syringe exchange, the rest of the armamentarium of prevention will not be enough to do the job of reducing the 50,000 new HIV infections that occur in this country each year, and the thousands more hepatitis infections among people who need access to condoms and clean works. Thanks for reading, and catch you after the conference in Washington D.C. â€” Michael Harney, The Rubberman, is an HIV/AIDS/STD/Hepatitis prevention educator and street outreach worker at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP).