Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    HIV still hurts those most in need

    Laney student examines impact of HIV/AIDS in Kenya, Oakland

    TestWhen I first came to Oakland from Kenya in January, 2013, I was surprised to see the carefree sexual attitudes of the American people. 
    The HIV epidemic in Kenya has caused people to live in fear, and pushed the government to make health education one of its highest priorities. Though the numbers are still high there, the spread of the disease is declining. 
    Here, in the U.S., it seems all is well, but under the surface, there is a predator hunting the American people. 
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1.2 million people over the age of 12 in the U.S. live with HIV, and over 150,000 of these have no knowledge of their positive HIV status. 
    The CDC does report, fortunately, that although the number of people living with HIV has increased, the annual number of new HIV infections is staying stable. 
    “Still,” the CDC writes on its website, “the pace of new infections continues at far too high a level.”

    HIV ABROAD

    My first knowledge of HIV came when John Kamau, an older neighbor, tested positive. 
    It seemed as though he was always sick; as soon as he recovered from one illness, another would overtake him. 
    Unhealed wounds showed up all over his body. The light left his eyes, and he lost his normal strength and energy. 
    Everything happened so quickly in the few months following Kamau’s diagnosis. 
    Fortunately, he was one of the diagnosed patients who eventually received the antiretroviral treatment he needed, and he is still alive today.
    Kamau’s story is common in Kenya. At the time of his diagnosis, this disease was new to our community. I was young and inexperienced; I had no idea the impact that this unseen virus could have on my small world. 
    Doctors and government officials were in a panic, hurried to educate the public. All across Kenya they held seminars which most people could not afford to attend; they had families to support. 
    No one had time to travel to these meetings. 
    Due to ignorance, the virus continued to spread unabated. The situation became so desperate that the government signed an initiative to pay whomever would attend the seminar a training wage — I attended one for 500 shillings (about six dollars).
    Though I was arrogant, I did pay attention at the meeting. 
    I learned how easily the disease is spread. I learned to avoid drugs, used needles, sharp objects, and to practice safe sex. I learned that it took three months from the day of exposure for the virus to show on a lab test. 
    HIVI was a player who liked to reap the benefits of my bad-boy status with the young ladies; they gave me gifts, food, and casual sex. 
    I took the news hard. My friends and I agreed to get tested every time the HIV/AIDS temporary clinics came to town. I was the first, and terrified, but I didn’t want to show it to my friends. 
    So, with a carefree expression, I entered the clinic tent.
    Thank God, my results were negative. 
    My relief was so intense, it was as if a window had opened to let a cool breeze into a stifling hot room. 
    All six of us were tested and cleared, save one. 
    His name is Carlos, and he was 16 years old — our funny friend, who was loved by all.

    A DIFFICULT DIAGNOSIS

    Carlos disappeared for a while, as he and his family adjusted. 
    It was painful to watch from a distance as my closest friend battled a deep depression and worried whether he could get the care that he needed. 
    At the time, treatment was only available by temporary clinic, and constant care was not assured. 
    He knew it was going to be difficult, but he did not stay down forever.
    I admire Carlos for the strength he found to become a better person. With the support of his family, he gained courage to live. He stopped sleeping around, and relied heavily on Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. 
    Though it never will be easy, he continues to fight his illness and his depression to this day.

    MAKING CHANGES

    Carlos’ diagnosis humbled us and challenged us to change our outlooks on our behavior and relationships. 
    The five of us who tested negative were so terrified that we could be next. 
    Some of us believed the completely false rumors that sharing food with him or touching could also transmit the virus. They deserted Carlos out of unjustified fear. 
    After that, Carlos only had two friends remaining, me and a boy named Michael. We attended more seminars and meetings together, searching for the help he needed. 
    We spent time with him, all of us together, as if nothing had changed. I was inspired by Carlos to pay more attention to the people I cared about, and to cherish my own relationships.
    Not long after, I found out that I was going to be a father, and my life was changed forever.
    HIV is a terrible disease, but like any severe trial, it has the potential to push away trivial pursuits and bring families closer together. 
    The reminder of our human frailty pushes us to make the best use of our time for the things we value. Ultimately Carlos, Michael, and I became close brothers in Christ. 
    We affirmed the faith which had nurtured us as children, and decided to live for something greater than ourselves.

    HIV AT HOME

    This brings me back to the city of Oakland. My heart goes out to you. 
    HIV is not going away any time soon. It is hiding among us, waiting for us to stumble upon it accidentally. 
    I moved from Africa only to find the same enemy in wait. In Oakland, despite the fact that HIV infections are going down overall, certain neighborhoods and demographics are seeing their rates of new HIV infections rise again — especially African-Americans. 
    This is a blessed nation, with abundant resources opportunities. But I fear that the people of this great nation will suffer unnecessarily for denial, or lack of awareness. 
    Our actions matter. 
    They impact our health, our future, and the well being of our society. 
    I can only ask for one thing, if you are unaware of your HIV status, please, get tested. 
    You never know if you might save your own life or the life of another.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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