Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
It is truly an honor to be amongst passionate long-time AIDS activists during the “Champions of Change” roundtable at the White House. In reflecting back on the unparalleled activism that the AIDS movement has sprung, I commemorate and thank pioneers from the community I represent, the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, including Ignatius Bau, Dean Goishi, Paul Kawata and Sukee Terada Ports; and the countless lives we’ve lost including my fellow Los Angelenos—James Sakakura, Patrick Sullivan and Christine Wu.
Thirty years into the AIDS pandemic, apathy and complacency has seeped in how America views HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, we continue to see alarming increases in new HIV infections particularly in communities of color and our youth population. And despite advances in AIDS treatment, we must be reminded that being on life-long medication is not necessarily the ideal quality of life and that many in third world countries still have high AIDS mortality rates.
This is why at my agency, the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, we continue to seek innovative solutions and remain adaptable to resolve the complexities of HIV prevention, treatment, research, training and advocacy.
One strategy that we’ve always relied on is the importance of coalition building and teamwork. For instance, we work with national partners to raise awareness to end the HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination in the Asian Pacific Islander community through the Banyan Tree Project. We also work in coalition with local and state partners to address co-factors and co-morbidities related to being at risk for HIV/AIDS like substance abuse and mental health, and the high incidence rates of viral hepatitis and AIDS co-infection. Internally, APAIT approaches its service delivery through an inter-disciplinary team of clinicians, social workers, peer leaders and advocates, to ensure a seamless continuum of AIDS prevention and care using both scientific based and home grown interventions. This fall, APAIT Health Center is expanding to provide primary health care integrated to our existing behavioral health and prevention approach.
From a policy and advocacy perspective, I encourage the AIDS movement to re-engage and work collectively without leaving anyone behind. The movement was founded on rising up together and we must be vigilant not to leave communities like Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and the transgender communities. We are all equally impacted by this epidemic which is why it is imperative that the National HIV/AIDS Strategy address inclusion of these often marginalized communities. Our local, state and federal public health agencies must also recognize the importance of disaggregation and standardization of HIV data collection and surveillance for these communities instead of lumping them together as “Others.”
On a personal note, I encourage parents and teenagers to have an open and honest dialogue about sexual health. This is one of the simplest ways we can prevent and de-stigmatize HIV. Finally, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge so get tested and know your HIV status.
Jury Candelario is the Director of Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT) in Los Angeles.