Wednesday, October 31, 2007

South in Need

Six short months from now the cable community will again come together for The National Cable Show, this year to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, the first time the NCTA has been held there since Hurricane Katrina devastated whole portions of the city and the region. Yet, there is another killer storm that is ravaging New Orleans and 14 other southern states including Washington D.C. – that killer is HIV/AIDS. Those states now account for 45% of new U.S. HIV cases and 50% of all AIDS related deaths, according to the CDC.

Cited in the POZ Magazine article below and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation “more than 21,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi were affected directly by Hurricane Katrina.” Medical coverage – even access to anti-retroviral drugs – became non-existent. Even the local AIDS Service Organization, New Orleans AIDS Task Force, a Tony Cox Community Fund grantee, had to temporarily relocate to Houston Texas. When we convene in New Orleans in May, Cable Positive will organize industry volunteer efforts to work with the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, where devoted workers staffed our exhibition booth at the last NCTA convention held in the city. Now, however, it’s our turn to help even more.

The cable industry has a vast presence throughout the southern region of the U.S. and has the best “educational vaccine” delivery system for messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, in towns and communities from Maryland to Mississippi and Florida to Texas. As the POZ article demonstrates, we have a lot more work to do fighting AIDS in communities across the south and throughout the country.

Nov 2007

The South Shall Rise Again

by Jimmie Briggs

In the two years since POZ last charted AIDS in its new U.S. epicenter—the South—infection rates have continued to rise in the region. In 2005, the South accounted for 41 percent of people with HIV in the nation; today, it’s home to 45 percent of new AIDS cases. The regional epidemic is further complicated by the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina and an unnatural disaster: poor federal AIDS funding.

When POZ last toured the American South, in 2005, the region accounted for 41 percent of all HIV infections in the U.S. Dozens of prevention workers, educators and people living with AIDS in the 16-state region (which includes Washingon DC) told us then that they felt that federal health officials had given up on the area—even though it had emerged as the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S. “We’ve got to figure out how to level the playing field [in the South], or we’re always going to be struggling,” Kathie Hiers, the head of AIDS Alabama, said at the time. “The status quo is going to kill Southerners.”

Read The Entire Article Here

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Grace Under Pressure

It's difficult not to think of Jim Robbins this week. The day he died, I was in Denver, where the Cable industry was gathered to honor its leaders. Jim's sudden absence from his hundreds of friends and colleagues at the Cable Center was acutely felt, so much so, that some--like Ann Carlsen--were too shaken to be among all of us who had honored Jim the year before at the same event.

Two years ago, when Cable Positive was preparing to honor Jim and Cox Communications for their outstanding work in communities across the country in the fight against HIV/AIDS, I was in Atlanta at Cox headquarters, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and watched the Cox team--led by Robbins--mobilize to do all it could to help its employees and customers who had been forced out of their homes.

This week, with my own family members being evacuated from their homes in Southern California as firestorms rage across a swath of 150 miles, I'm in Atlanta again as the Cox team--led this time by Pat Esser--moves into nationwide action to help families like my own through yet another life and death emergency. Appropriately, there are two memorial services being held for Jim Robbins in Atlanta this week, but the most fitting tribute to the man who personified JFK's definition of courage as being "grace under pressure," is being carried out right now across the country by the amazingly talented and caring team of individuals he put in place at Cox--and were always the first Jim would credit with any success.

When Cable Positive honored Jim Robbins in 2006, he expressed to me several times how embarrassed he was by the recognition. "I don't deserve this," he would repeat, as if it were a mantra. "My team does; they're the ones who made me realize how important it was to use our resources to fight AIDS." That, I said to Jim, was precisely why he deserved to be honored. It takes a courageous leader, with a good deal of personal grace and strength, to act on that, and to make his people's passions become his own.

Jim Robbins personified service, commitment and courage and he brought those powerful traits, and many more admirable ones, to any cause--in any circumstance--in which he was involved. No matter how briefly he may have touched our lives, we are better people for having been graced by his presence.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pencils, Notebooks and Condoms

According to a recent report by NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, on October 7, 2007, “Today’s generation of college students has lived with HIV all their lives. For that reason, it may be understandable that it’s not at the top of the list of things they worry about.”

This should raise two questions. One, why does a generation that has lived with the disease for its entire time on earth account for half of all new HIV infections in the United States? And two, why are mainstream media outlets not doing more to raise awareness for this generation which is increasingly more dependent on the content they provide?

In a survey done by the American College Health Association, the infection rate for HIV in the 12 months prior to the survey, in colleges was roughly equal to the rate of infection of the general U.S. population. Students exposed to a wealth of information about HIV/AIDS, that kind of willful ignorance is even more unacceptable.

Colleges and Universities located in high risk areas such as Washington D.C. –an area with an infection rate higher than many African countries, one person for every 20 – require immediate action beyond the basket of free condoms left out in the campus nurses office.

Cable Positive has been a long time supporter and a partner of organizations who target young people in their HIV/AIDS awareness efforts such as the Black AIDS Institute, which recently sent 25 African American students to Washington D.C. to train as HIV/AIDS advocates. We’ve conducted comprehensive HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns across the country not only with the Black AIDS Institute, but with the Latino Commission on AIDS and the Asian/Pacific Islander Wellness Project.

Right now Cable Positive is continuing our role as partner in order to further the work of organizations like Living Beyond Belief and Hopes Voice, two organizations that specifically target the younger generation in their HIV/AIDS awareness efforts.

Together, we all know there’s a lot more work for us to tackle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

October 15 - National Latino AIDS Awareness Day

October is a busy month in terms of diversity. Next Monday, October 15, is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) - a day where the Latino community across the country comes together to recognize the need for awareness regarding HIV/AIDS.

Today, Hispanics comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population – an impressive number. But, with growing power comes an acknowledgement of growing problems – the community accounts for some 20 percent of all AIDS cases in the U.S.

Clearly, in the Hispanic communities around the country, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, we have work to do.

The rapidly growing Hispanic community has translated into a rapidly growing cable and communications industry, one that now has tremendous resources, access, influence and reach to do something about the epidemic in the communities they serve.

For the last several years Cable Positive has been working with the leaders in this industry – like Univision and Telemundo – to combat the rapid spread of this disease among the Hispanic population.

Working closely with the National Latino AIDS Commission, Cable Positive created, produced and distributed Spanish Language PSAs to 350 markets and 1,000 AIDS organizations across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with the active participation of many Spanish Language networks and systems – but there is still more work to do.

We need to join each other in the fight against this disease now, more than ever, because we have so much more work to do. We need to find “new reservoirs of compassion,” as the Latino AIDS Commission eloquently says in their campaign, to increase our political voices and confront many of the difficult issues deemed unmentionable for generations among Latinos, including drug use and sexuality.

In Puerto Rico, for example, 49 percent of HIV transmissions are a result of injection drug use, despite the perception that AIDS is still a gay disease. Such stigma forces some families to change the cause of death on death certificates, and costs many young Latinos their lives because they are too ashamed to get tested for HIV or get the medicines that can save them.

Networks and systems that are specifically targeting the Hispanic communities have a tremendous power: the power to save lives. They have the power to correct the misperceptions among Latinos when 31 percent of the population believes that HIV is transmitted by touching a toilet seat; when 38 percent believe HIV can be contracted by kissing, and 23 percent believe you can get HIV by sharing a glass of water.

Together, we have much work to do in improving the lives of Hispanics, to educate our communities all about HIV/AIDS.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Too Often Overlooked

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and a perfect time to remind us that HIV and status is a disability under the law.

Too often, HIV and AIDS are overlooked when addressing disabilities in the workplace. Whether it is due to the stigma that still surrounds the epidemic 25 years later or the lack of a comprehensive understanding of HIV and AIDS as a disability status, along with the potential needs and requirements of those HIV positive people in the workplace, there is still work to be done.

In June of 1998, the US Supreme Court ruled that people infected with HIV were entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of there systems or lack of systems. The landmark decision for people with HIV came about from a simple visit to the dentist.

In September of 1994, Sidney Abbott visited the dentist to have a cavity filled. The dentist, Dr. Randon Bragdon, refused to perform the procedure when Ms. Abbott disclosed on a form that she was asymptomatic HIV positive. Bragdon agreed to fill the cavity if he could perform the work in a hospital setting, but that Abbott would have to pay for the expense of being admitted and using the facility. Abbott sued Bragdon on grounds of discrimination, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

At the time, Ms. Abbott’s experience was one of a growing number of discriminations by doctors and dentists who refused to treat HIV positive people, fueling the controversy and resulting in the historic United States Supreme court case.

As it currently stands, the ADA states the HIV positive person has rights and protections from discrimination based on HIV disease. The rights and provisions provided by the ADA are protected by Federal law and confirmed and backed by The United States Supreme Court. Because both symptomatic and asymptomatic HIV infected people are protected by the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for the infected person. Additionally, this means an HIV positive person is also entitled to workplace accommodations that allow him or her to perform the jobs efficiently, while protecting the health of the employee.

For instance, under the ADA, employers must allow time away from work to seek medical care such as doctors' visits, trips to the pharmacy to pick up medication, and time to take that medication in a private setting. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations regarding schedule modification, reassignment to vacant positions that are better suited to the person's limitations, and must provide equipment that will allow the person to better perform his or her job.

A number of companies in the cable industry who are taking great steps to ensure that they have a comprehensive HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination workplace policy, provide HIV/AIDS education training to their managers, and employees, and encourage volunteerism to develop more understanding and compassion around the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS. There is even greater opportunity to make more of impact if those companies wish to.

When I first became involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the first thing that I realized was the power one person has to make a difference. The power one person has to help educate, influence, and empower a person be a self-advocate and be an advocate in their community.

Think of what a company can do. It can educate employees, influence vendors to do the same, and empower the communities that they live and work it to recognize their contributions and strive to make the same contributions where they work and live.

In the end, disability employment awareness does not stop at those who are HIV positive but it should not fall short of it either. With 1.2 million people living in this country infected with HIV/AIDS and 1 out of every 2 new infections occurring in those under the age of 25, HIV/AIDS is very much a workplace issue as well as a human issue.