Lauren Lisbon

Core 116 AIDS

July 12, 2007

                      My first impression of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic in my community was simply AIDS was not a concern. It is a topic not brought up for discussion, or considered a risk amongst the people. Living in Harlem, NY, the community is a combination of worn-down project complexes with supermarkets and Laundromats. Pologrounds is a project complex with four buildings, directly across from the famous Rucker Park. The residents in the Pologrounds mostly consist of African American and Hispanic middle class and welfare families. The neighborhood is not peaceful but quite active, and in some cases, dangerous.  Drug dealers stand on street corners, waiting for their regular customers, and shootouts and stabbings spark in the midst of disputes. There are no advertisements or billboards bringing awareness to the people so the thought of AIDS never comes across their minds.

            I understand the basic facts of AIDS and its effects. AIDS is the disease acquired after a person has contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  AIDS does not discriminate amongst gender and ethnicity; everyone is at risk. Presently, there is no cure for AIDS, but there are medications accessible to the public. There was failure in my connection between AIDS and drugs. Drugs are very much widespread in my neighborhood, yet it never came across my mind that the people were contracting HIV and dying from AIDS. When commuting the cumulative AIDS cases in my zipcode, I guessed a very low number compared to the actual cases. My educated guess for the number of cumulative AIDS cases since 1980 was 110 cases, when it was actually 810 cases. My presumptions of the AIDS epidemic in my zipcode were females are 60% of the cumulative AIDS cases, and 30% of the cumulative AIDS cases in zipcode 11236 resulted from heterosexual transmission. I was unsure of the actual size of a zipcode and just didn’t view AIDS as a concern in my neighborhood. I actually believed that AIDS was a serious problem in lower Manhattan, in the sections called SoHo and the Village. There are many homosexuals and drug-users in lower Manhattan, and so I believe their AIDS rates are higher than Harlem.

            My high school experience was centered on preserving the Christian traditions and morals, and reaching out to the community about Jesus Christ. I attended an all-girl Catholic high school called Aquinas High School, where our motto was to be “a community of faith and learning”. Aquinas High School stressed the importance of a good education and a daily relationship with God. Safe sex was not condoned nor acknowledged but the idea of abstinence was stressed as the only option. There are no condom dispensers or class discussions on the importance of safe sex. You couldn’t go to the Nurse and ask for condoms because, even if she did have them, she was not allowed to give them to a student. My school used clever ways to discuss safe sex by teaching a semester on the different types of love, which consist of martial love. Sex is expressed as an act performed between a man and a woman in a marriage. Unlike public school, we didn’t spend time discussing in detail HIV/AIDS. I enrolled in health class my senior year, and we only studied HIV/AIDS for about two weeks. We studied HIV/AIDS during the month we studied sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). We were taught the basic facts of HIV and AIDS, and how the only way to prevent contracting these STDs is remain abstinent until marriage. Aquinas High School stressed the importance of abstinence in all matters regarding sex and/or STDS. They fulfilled their requirement to the New York State law by covering the topic of AIDS in health classes. There is no specific time blotted out time to teach AIDS in health classes, only that it is part of the curriculum (1). If a student wanted to ask questions about HIV testing, she would have to meet with the Health teacher to discuss the matter. Although Aquinas High School only taught AIDS for two weeks, following the law, and giving instructions of moral character and abstinence..

            The first time I learned about AIDS is when Magic Johnson was in an infomercial about HIV. A family member explained to me that Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, and he could afford to purchase the medicine given to infected people in order to stay healthy. They said the reason why Magic Johnson did not have AIDS, because he could afford to purchase the medication. Then I saw the film “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, where I learned the last stages of AIDS, such as the appearance of lesions. The film taught me the true effect AIDS has on the human body and also the way in which it is contracted. I believe that with all that is going on in the world, the United States tends to overlook what it is taken place in its own land. AIDS has become a major epidemic, and the numbers of diagnoses and deaths are increasing. Just as I overlooked AIDS in my community, I fear that the United States has overlooked AIDS in the country, and now we are speeding to correct the issue.

            In the media, coverage on HIV/AIDS in Harlem does not take place. Most new stories evolve around the street violence, drug activity, and the many malfunctions of the communities. There are no advertisements or billboards promoting HIV prevention or testing. There are no AIDS support groups or fundraisers to contribute to the AIDS epidemic. AIDS is just not a topic of concern.

 In my community, the newspapers offered to the people are the Daily News and the New York Post. These newspapers tend to portray the most recent murders and rapes, and the newest change in the sports industry. There is little to no coverage on health issues such as AIDS. In the article “HIV Test Urged For All NYERS”, the City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden advised all New Yorkers to be tested for HIV in memory of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (2). He quotes statistics about the number of African Americans infected with HIV in New York. Although the article is encouraging HIV testing, it does not stress enough the issue of high numbers amongst African Americans. In the article “How AIDS Testing Red Tape Risks NYC Lives”, the issue of red tape is addressed on whether to keep the old policy, or simply ask patients for consent for be tested for HIV (3). The old procedure was filling out a four-page form, which contributes to the reason why many New Yorkers do not go in for testing, to avoid filling out numbers of paperwork. It also explains why many are unaware that they are infected until they reach full-blown AIDS.

In the article “Wider Screenings for HIV Are Recommended”, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that HIV screenings should be “routine part of health care”, instead of targeting specific groups such as pregnant women, adolescents, and gay men (4). This represents the steps taken to help work towards bringing awareness to all about the HIV. Regardless if you are pregnant, a teenager, or a homosexual, you are at risk of contracting HIV. In the press release, State Health Commissioner Richard Daines introduced the campaign “HIV Stops With Me”, in which New Yorkers living with AIDS speak about HIV prevention and improvement of the health of the infected (5). “This campaign will be featured on bus, subway, and transit advertisements in New York City, Buffalo, and Long Island.” This gives the people of New York the opportunity see the effects of AIDS in the lives of others, and how crucial it is to stop the spreading of HIV/AIDS.

With these articles presented to the community, the people are aware that they should be tested for HIV immediately, and have heard the stories of the AIDS spokesmen. But they are still unaware of how AIDS is a tremendous problem in the community because it exceeds the national AIDS rate. In my zipcode 10039, the cumulative AIDS cases since 1980 are 810 cases, with a cumulative AIDS rate per 100,000 of 3726.37. This is 4 times higher than the New York State AIDS rate of 893.51 and 11 times higher the United States AIDS rate of 339.71. This is a serious problem in a community that does not view AIDS as issue of importance and concern. But there are other areas in Manhattan where the cumulative AIDS is extremely high, putting the borough on alert for immediate change. Zipcodes 10011 and 10018, both located in Chelsea-Clinton, have the greatest cumulative AIDS rates in Manhattan. Zipcode 10011 AIDS rate is 7812.47, and zipcode 10018 AIDS rate is 7967.10. These rates are 8 times higher than the New York State rate and 23 times higher than the United States rate.

The calculations from Table 1 show how the AIDS epidemic truly inhabits Manhattan, and how there is a serious problem at hand. The people are unaware of many AIDS cases there really are in the area, and how the numbers continue to increase. It is shocking to me to know that my zipcode has one of the highest AIDS rates in Manhattan. Living in this community all my years of existence, I wouldn’t consider us a place where AIDS is growing substantially. But the data shows how AIDS is truly becoming a crisis, being that we are unable to reach out to the people and persuade them to be tested in the early stages of HIV.



Works Cited

  1. State Education Department Elementary, Middle, Secondary, and Continuing Education. University of the State of New York. 11 July 2007                               < http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/sss/Health_Ed/>


  1. Edozien, Frankie. “HIV Test Urged For All NYERS” New York Post 7 February 2006:  8.
  2. Bakalar, Nicholas. “Wider Screenings for H.I.V. Are Recommended” The New York Times 1 May 2007.
  3. Hammond, Bill. “How AIDS Testing Red Tape Risks N.Y.C. Lives” Daily News 12 June 2007:  41.
  4. “State Health Launches “HIV Stops With Me” Campaign” June 2007. New York State Department of Health. 11 July 2007.                                                               < http://www.health.state.ny.us/press/releases/2007/2007-06-22_hiv_stops_with_me.htm>