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World AIDS Day, observed on December 1 of each year, was started in 1988 as a way for people across the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for those living with HIV, and remember those who died from AIDS-related illness.
In honor of World AIDS Day 2022, the Fairfax County Health Department, Virginia Department of Health, the Northern Virginia Clergy Council for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS, the NOVA Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Northern Virginia Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Alexandria Health Department hosted a virtual conversation and celebration. Over 90 people joined to hear from three panelists about HIV/AIDS, living with HIV, and the importance of self-care in promoting well-being, and to learn about HIV/AIDS services in the community.
State and Local Data Presentation
The first panelist, Unsar Malik, HIV surveillance epidemiologist with the Division of Disease Prevention at the Virginia Department of Health provided information about HIV/AIDS, including an overview of the disease, state and local HIV/AIDS statistics, and HIV treatment and prevention. The data presented by Malik gave listeners a better understanding of the disease, who it impacts, and how it is treated.
Key data shared:
- There were 202 new HIV diagnoses in 2021 in Northern Virginia localities
- 78.7% of new diagnoses in Northern Virginia in 2021 were in men and 21.3% were in women
- Most new diagnoses in Northern Virginia 2021 in were in people ages 30-39
- As of December 31, 2021, there were 26,258 people in the state of Virginia living with HIV, 8,207 of them in Northern Virginia localities
Living with HIV
Lynette Trawick, the second panelist, discussed her experience as someone who has been living with HIV for 14 years and the importance of having conversations about the disease. “The more we get this education out, the less stigma there will be. The less stigma there will be, the more that we can thrive and live openly, and we can create a world where we can have a conversation around HIV...There should be no reason why people should feel any kind of way when they stand in front of a group and say, ‘I have HIV.’ It shouldn’t be a pin drop moment, a quiet moment,” said Lynette. “HIV is just a part of who I am. I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m an author, I’m a speaker, I’m living with HIV...it’s just one part.” Lynette encourages others to share their stories, educate others, and continue to change the way HIV is talked about. “These conversations, this storytelling, this sharing saves lives of women like myself,” she said.
The final panelist, Annetta Thomas, a licensed professional counselor, discussed how self-care plays an important role in well-being and rejuvenation, specifically after an HIV diagnosis. “Self-care is not selfish, it’s not self-indulgent. It’s actually very essential,” said Annetta.
Annetta shared 4 pillars of self-care:
- Physical self-care, which includes making and keeping medical appointments, taking required medications, engaging in physical activity, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.
- Psychological/emotional self-care which can be individual and/or group therapy, depression-related treatments, journaling, yoga, and meditation.
- Social self-care, such as creating intentional communities and friendships and asking for help and support.
- Spiritual self-care which can include having a place of worship, participating in daily prayer, and having a space for meditation and healing.
“If you find that you are someone living with HIV/AIDS or you are supporting someone who’s been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, please know that you are deserving of a healthy life, surroundings that are positive, support, and love,” said Annetta. “Renewal and rejuvenation start in our head and then in our heart. When we tap into the power of positive beliefs and thoughts, our body will follow.”
This World AIDS Day 2022 conversation ended with a community spotlight presented by Nechelle Terrell from the Northern Virginia Clergy Council for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS, an initiative of the Fairfax County Health Department, that engages African American congregations in HIV prevention initiatives aimed at reducing stigma and encourages the faith community to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Nechelle highlighted the work of NOVASalud, Inc., a non-profit, community-based health organization in Northern Virginia through free culturally competent and language appropriate HIV/AIDS and STI services. “NOVASalud works to effect the change necessary to instill understanding and compassion and strives to mitigate the discrimination and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS,” said Nechelle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local health departments leaned on NOVASalud to provide HIV/AIDS and STI services when changes had to be made due to disease mandates. “On behalf of Alexandria and Fairfax County Health Departments, I want to take this opportunity to thank [NOVASalud] for your commitment to providing services to Northern Virginia residents when we were not able to do so,” said Nechelle.
To learn more about HIV/AIDS, testing and treatment options, and community programs visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/health/hiv-aids