Monday, July 25, 2011

I’m a gay Latino white male who has been living with HIV since August of 1996

I’m a gay Latino white male who has been living with HIV since August of 1996. Individuals that I know around me, living with HIV or even AIDS are living longer and healthier lives than back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. However, I know individuals who are living with HIV or AIDS from that time still today. In those days there were limited treatment options. Patients often didn’t feel there was much they could do about their future. One thing they could do to help themselves is have regular conversations with their physicians of how they feel on the medicines that they are taking. Another thing they could do to help themselves is take their medications as directed by their physician.

HIV and AIDS are no joke. Yes, individuals are living longer lives. However it is not without some consequences. Just think about how it would be to tell people that you know that you are living with HIV. Would they treat you any differently? Would they even be a part of your life any longer? How would your family feel about it? What if you told no one about it except your sexual partners? What would that do to you emotionally? How and when would you tell your sexual partners that you were an individual living with HIV?

Then there are the medications. Sure they have one pill that you can take once a day now. It is not the best option for everyone, however, and there are side effects of medications. Sometimes an individual has to take another pill to help ease the side effects of another medication. Sometimes the side effects become more tolerable over time. Then there are some individuals who take medicine with few or no short term side effects. Some of the medicines are fairly new on the market. Therefore, there’s no way to know what long term effects they may be causing.

I say all of this to say that living with HIV is no picnic. However, I’m an individual who has grown to accept and enjoy living life with HIV. If you would have asked me in 1996 if I would be alive today, I would have told you “no way”. I feel that I am still alive today because my purpose is not yet complete on this Earth. I may never know what my purpose is. That is alright with me. All I do know is that I change lives every day that I live another day. I do keep my doctor appointments and have great conversations with my doctors. I take the medications that I am prescribed as directed by my doctor. I have conversations with my pharmacist on a regular basis, as well.

I have come so far as an individual. I am involved in a regional (Mid-South) and statewide (Tennessee) planning group for the prevention of HIV/AIDS. This assists individuals in our Mid-South area with various risks for getting HIV with getting money allocated to their demographic group to help prevent the spread of HIV. I have also become the Chair of the Tennessee Association of People Living With AIDS otherwise known as TAPWA. TAPWA is a bunch of delegates, alternates, and participants who address local, state, and federal policy issues; create opportunities for education; and provide a network of support and communication among and between people living with HIV/AIDS, agencies, and government. I empower people giving individuals their initial results in twenty minutes by testing them for the HIV antibody. I help people learn more about HIV / AIDS through American Red Cross classes within our community as well.

Please know your status and get tested. It is so important to get the medical and supportive services that you can get if you are an individual living with HIV or AIDS. If you are or if you are not an individual living with HIV or AIDS, it is so important to play safer. Reducing risk factors is so important especially in our Mid-South area. This is where we have the most reported cases of HIV / AIDS in the entire State of Tennessee. The importance of knowing how to reduce your risks, then practicing those behaviors between yourself and your partner are priceless and could impact you for a lifetime. Using a latex condom or a female condom and water based lubricant each time you have sex is a way to reduce risks. Mid-Southerners, to learn more about reducing risks in other ways, contact one of the agencies listed on the following web page . You can also call 1-877-448-5669 (that is 1-877-HIV-KNOW) to have any question about HIV / AIDS answered. If you live inside or outside of our Mid-South area, you can check out the following website for more information about HIV in general at or . HIV is not the only thing that you are putting yourself at risk for. There are other STDs that you can also catch that are not pleasant to have.

Take care of yourself and your partner(s). Live life to the fullest every second of every day. Remember that the decisions you make about sex may have consequences. There is help available is you are facing challenges or trouble by this. Whatever challenges my HIV brings, I will not give up. I’ll continue to do everything I can to get my immune system as strong as it can be. I will also do everything I can to minimize the amount of virus that flows through my body.

I wrote this to share with you my choice LIFE over AIDS.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Challenges of an HIV Educator

We continue to provide HIV/AIDS prevention education targeting particularly African American women of childbearing age (15 to 44 years of age), in an effort to reduce the number of new HIV infections reported year to year. Each week, at a certain site in the city, I am speaking with 15-25 women in this targeted group as part of the Behavioral Counseling Model intervention that we use. I will do an introduction then a Pre-Knowledge Assessment Test, an American Red Cross certified HIV Education presentation and then a Post-Knowledge Assessment Test, which is the same as the Pre-Knowledge Assessment Test. In conjunction with the University Of Memphis Department Of Psychology, we use this pre and post knowledge assessment tool as a way of measuring the amount of change in an individual’s knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS. The purpose is to evaluate the learning process of individuals after being presented with the facts about HIV and AIDS. Measuring against current perceptions, myths, and other miss-information that guide individual responses and reactions to the disease, our effort is to cause one to assess the behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection, leading to a diagnosis of AIDS.

I have found that many women lack the knowledge needed in order to facilitate change in risky behaviors and that this lack of knowledge leads them in a direct path to HIV infection. Knowing that HIV is spread primarily be having unprotected sex with an HIV infected sex partner, the question is ‘how would you know if your sex partner has HIV or not?’ Well, let’s imagine that you don’t know. Then the question becomes, ‘why would you have unprotected sex with that sex partner?’ As you begin to conjure an answer to those questions there is the point that most men do not like to use condoms when having sex anyway. So there is the first of many barriers to be confronted. How do you make him use a condom?

There is a wide-ranging discussion about this very thing and it is mentioned that some women do not possess the skill to negotiate condom-use with a man and this could be the sticking point in the risk-taking behavior; being almost forced to have sex without a condom.

Whereas statistics and anecdotal evidence portrays that 1) many men do not know their HIV/STI status 2) have multiple sex partners 3) do not always use condoms with these sex partners and 4) will have had HIV infection for at least two to three years before finding out, women will invariably be placed in conflict with their own values when involved with a man who does not “want” to wear a condom when having sex with them.

Then when you look at the social-economic implications of why a woman would participate in unprotected sex with a particular man, we will see where the complication of possible infidelity exists resulting in possible domestic partner violence occurring. A woman who would ask a man to suddenly start using a condom when engaged in sex with him “obviously” has caught something from some other man or she thinks that he has something; creating a situation that will threaten her economic survival or pose a threat against her very life.

So, there are a myriad of determinants to the behavior that places women at risk for HIV infection and unless these determinants are addressed we will continue to see women of childbearing age becoming infected at such an alarming rate.

When speaking with especially women of African descent I have had to confront attitudes that are consistent with the information received from women who have become infected with HIV; they trust their sex partner who happens to be a husband or long-termed boyfriend, a chance meeting with an attractive man who may fit the profile of the potential HIV infected man, cannot dictate condom use in sexual relations or is the victim of intimate partner violence. Among these women it can be said that many do not understand how HIV is transmitted or believe themselves not to be at risk because the man they are with is not a homosexual man, which is not a subject that they can even discuss with a man. Though there have been numerous reports of men in jail being raped by another man and becoming infected and even the stories of men who have sex with other men and women does not cause consistent thought or imaginings that this somehow would affect their relationships with men.

Many women categorically deny that there is even a remote chance that their man or men is actually having sex with another man on a regular basis. More times than not this topic will illicit strong and sometimes animated reactions from some Black women, to the point where I am careful not to agitate in my effort to be informative. But this is part of the educational process if for no other reason as to ignite thought along those lines among women who are obviously at bit stubborn when it comes to addressing extraneous reasoning with men who provide them with something more than…sex.

I continue to challenge women to be more conscientious in choosing who they have sex with and the choice in providing protection against HIV infection.. I always suggest the use of the polyurethane female condom as an empowering solution to male non-condom use. Though almost 6 out of 10 Black females have not tried the female condom, just about 8 out of 10 of them have not even heard of the female condom, which says that there is little discussion of condom use among females. As it were, the numbers of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies is continuous and it is so likely that the female condom would reduce many of these numbers. The question becomes ‘why isn’t the female condom promoted among these females by other females or even their health care providers?’

This is the week-to-week challenge of the HIV educator. Sometimes it becomes such a challenge that I have nightmares about HIV/AIDS becoming “just another condition that Black folk face”. This is still a 100% preventable infection and until there is a cure there will be a need for continued education in prevention of HIV which is the virus that causes AIDS!

Ernest A. Donelson II

Ernest Donelson is an HIV Education Specialist & Prevention Case Manager at an AIDS Awareness Program in Memphis, TN. Contact Ernest at

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nyghtcloud: Aren't We All Americans?

The other day I watched a TV show called "Reba" which is one of the funniest shows on TV to me. Later that day when I was out taking care of things and I was on the phone with a friend in a store, I mentioned "Reba" to him and talked about how funny it was. After I got off the phone a white lady next to me said she liked the show too and "didn't think I would like a show like that". When I questioned her as to why (I had to ask) she stated to me 'because they were white and I am black.' I was so offended. So I asked her had she ever seen "The Cosby Show". She replied "yes" and that she "loved it." "But why", I asked?" She looked at me but did not have answer. So I asked, "was it because they were an American family with problems and values you could relate to?" She replied, "yes". So I said to her, "that is why I like Reba." She blushed with embarrassment at what she implied, then apologized. I accepted, but I stood their thinking why would my being black keep me from enjoying funny things about American life the same way she does?

Why are things so separate in the world? I mean, why can't ethnic Americans get along with whites and why so some white people fear, hate and discriminate against ethnic Americans. The thing is, we are all Americans. Most people in America have seen "The Cosby Show" in the 80's. A show about black doctor, his attorney wife and their 5 kids. But more to the point, they were an American family who showed how life could be if we value our education, our children and respect others and other cultures. They were proud of their heritage and of their diverse relations with others. There was also a show called "7th Heaven" about a white minister and his wife and their 5 kids. They also valued education, their children and respect for other cultures. They too were an American family who showed us how love of family could be. Both shows were about American families with problems and values we could all relate to! So why would race play a difference as to what TV shows I enjoyed? Why would someone question my American heritage because I am black?

We separate ourselves into categories of race, education, and other trivial things. Why aren't we more unified as Americans? There are so many other countries where values are upheld. They band together on most everything in life which creates a more peaceful and fluid society. Even when other cultures move to America, they appear to band together in one area of a community and work together to promote growth. But most black and white Americans appear locked in a perpetual conflict never resulting in harmony and peaceful coexistence. Why? We are all Americans. Some say it is because for black society, the system is not designed to support them. The system that is designed to 'assist and support' those in need, discriminates against those with low incomes, which, unfortunately is a great deal of black society. And yet that fault can be blamed on a system that does not offer the same opportunities to those who truly need the assistance thus creating the problems for which the system is supposed to help you avoid. It is said that white society can't understand why blacks are angry and frustrated with life. They can't see that the system that works so well for them is not afforded to other parts of society and don't realize the effort it takes to try to navigate life without the proper tools to do so.

However, the bottomline is we are all Americans. A point I will continue to stress. We all want to live a life feel with happiness and a sound peace of mind. We all want what is best for our children. We all want the proverbial "white picket fence" life. Just imagine if every single American were given the same opportunities in education. Or if every American, no matter your race, was given a choice in healthcare to become well and have a peace of mind about living. Or if we embraced other cultures and learned about each other and how to honor each other's cultures. Imagine if young black boys and girls could see more positive images of themselves and not the criminal images projected by the media. Imagine if we looked at TV shows with black or white families and could learn about each other without judgement or prejudice. Can you imagine if people were not made to feel that being born of different colors was wrong?

My point is, we are all Americans. In this day and age we have much bigger issues other than race. It should be the last thing we think about in regards to black and white. While I embrace the "American Dream" we must make sure that those who come here honor America. There is also terrorism which now plagues the world and we must be more aware of those who seek to harm any and all Americans. And let's not forget the natural disasters befalling our planet everyday. How can we still be concerned about what type of TV shows each race likes or why we are are moving in to each others neighborhoods. WE ARE ALL AMERICANS!!!!

I was born here in America. So I am not an African American because I have never been or grew up there. I am brown-skinned, dark skinned, black American. I went to school here in America, I learned the values and traditions of this country and I pledge my allegiance to the American flag. I will defend this country from all threats, foreign and domestic because I am an American. While I am not proud of this country's inequality, indifference to its the poor and needy, and the lack of value it places in education, I am still proud to call this country my home. This is America and I embrace my home. It is beautiful and fun, diverse, and so many other good things! I feel there is much we can do to truly and officially become the greatest nation in the world, but we are definitely in the top 5.

It is sad that it took an act of terror on 9/11 to bring us together as Americans but one day I hope we will embrace that feeling of unity for each other without having need of a disaster. I hope that one day we will not just see the color of the person, but we will embrace that difference and truly live as one. We are Americans and we should be proud of that and each other. Our cultures maybe different but our hearts and goals are the same. We want the same things as Americans. Let's remember that next time we see each other in the streets. Let's stop judging the color and the stereotypes that come with them. Let's start getting to know the person before you, embracing who they are while maintaining pride in who you are. Remember that next time you run into another AMERICAN.

is a man living with HIV, hepatitis C, kidney disease, heart disease and bipolar depression offering up words of encouragement for others. Read his blogs: and

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking HIV drugs earlier could curb new infections

People living with HIV are less likely to pass on the virus to their sexual partners when they immediately receive medication.

An international study that included more than 1,700 couples showed that taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs immediately, instead of waiting for the immune system to be weakened, led to a 96.3% reduction in HIV transmission to a sexual partner who does not carry the virus.

“We’ve speculated for a number of years, in theory, that treating an infected individual should reduce infectiousness to others,” said Dr. Sten Vermund, one of the investigators in the study.

“This was a rigorous clinical trial that proved the concept if you put people on ARVs even before they need it for their own health, it might reduce infectiousness to others.”

Instead of thinking of antiretrovirals strictly as a treatment tool, the medication could also be a prevention tool to curb new infections, said Vermund, who is the director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

The study suggests that giving antiretrovirals to someone immediately after infection could first benefit the patient with HIV and reduce the spread to others. The study called HPTN 052, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was scheduled to end in 2015, but the results were released early Thursday because of the clarity of the findings.

"This new finding convincingly demonstrates that treating the infected individual - and doing so sooner rather than later - can have a major impact on reducing HIV transmission,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a news release.

The study followed 1,763 heterosexual couples from 13 cities in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the United States and Zimbabwe. The couples were serodiscordant – meaning one person has the HIV, and the other does not have the virus.

CNN: Love in the time of HIV/AIDS

In the study that started April 2005, the HIV-infected partners were randomly assigned to immediately take antiretroviral drugs or to take the drugs when their immunity fell below a certain level or if they experienced an AIDS-related event.

Of the 1,763 couples, 28 new cases of HIV were reported in which their HIV-infected partner was found to be the source of infection. Twenty-seven of the infections were in the group that deferred their antiretroviral therapy. Only one was found in the group that started taking the medication immediately.

“It makes sense,” said Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, dermatologist and virologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, who treats HIV/AIDS patients. “The incidence of infected virus would obviously be lowered if you took the antiretroviral medicine. But if I were somebody who had a partner who was HIV positive I wouldn’t take that risk. I would make sure they used condoms and protected sex.”

Friedman-Kien was not involved in the study. He cautioned that even a person on proper antiretroviral therapy could have a few virus particles floating around – and it takes just one virus particle to infect another person.

The concept that a patient should immediately take antiretrovirals after diagnosis has already been proposed by public health officials in San Francisco, California, and Vancouver in Canada. But, many in America as well as developing countries cannot get access to the medications despite having dire medical needs.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Saving Humanity

Nyghtcloud: Saving Humanity

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” - Albert Eistein

Was Einstein’s statement the way he viewed his present or an observation of what was to come? How fortuitous are those words when compared to the current events around the world. Einstein was known for his theories on what he believed to be the nature of things in the universe surrounding us. I view his statement to simply mean that people can become so dependent on convenience that they lose their connection to one another and what it means to be human.

The invention of the car was one of man's great achievements. People were able to get places sooner rather than later. Important items like mail, food even human lives were able to be transported across great distances for convenience or necessity. Airplane, trains, and boats have greatly contributed to do and go faster and faster. Now, for the most part, we use our inventions to enhance our way of life. The truth is without some of those inventions we would not be able to thrive as we have so far as humans.

As we continue to grow, so do our needs. Here is where the line between needs and wants gets blurred. You see somewhere along way, we have met- and even surpassed- most of our basic needs, food, mental/emotional stimulation, procreation, health and financial resources. But we did not stop there. We began to redefine what our needs were and soon decided whatever you wanted essentially became what you needed! The quote, “patience is a .virtue”, became a thing of the past. So, what you want is now what you need. Waiting for things became too frustrating for most and soon convenience was no longer a luxury- but a requirement.

The bottom-line is that people need to spend more time connecting with one another via voice, face to face, and touch. I am not suggesting that we are ruined and there is no hope for us as humans. On the contrary, if we are to maintain our humanity, then educating our children, protecting the environment and maintaining world health should be the goal of us all. The world around us is changing drastically with climatic, economic and global shifts and I am sure it is overwhelming to us all.

But there is a simple formula to saving humanity. To make big change in the world, make a small but positive change in the world. Take the time to say hello on the phone instead of sending a text. Spend more time meeting and talking in person instead of letting technology get in-between you and the people you care for and love. We may be a technology-driven age, but we don't have to let technology drive us apart from our humanity.

is a man living with HIV, hepatitis C, kidney disease, heart disease and bipolar depression offering up words of encouragement for others. Read his blog: