COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – It’s been 30 years since HIV and AIDS were discovered. Health leaders estimate 14,000 people are infected in South Carolina, and more young black men are testing positive.
Ali Shabazz works for the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council in Columbia. He’s HIV-positive, and counsels young black men who’ve just learned they are too.
“We’re dying,” said Shabazz. “The black population is dying, because the adolescent population thinks like I used to think. ‘It’ll never happen to me. Ain’t gone knock on my door.’ But it’s knocking on their door at alarming rates.”
In fact, studies show it’s a growing trend across the country and right here at home. The Department of Health and Environmental Control says black men make up 15% of the state’s population, yet they make up 47 percent of those with the disease. Many of them are between the ages of 16-24.
Shabazz says the issues are young men having unprotected sex with both men and women and the stigma about AIDS in the black community. “Why can’t we change our mindset to save our own lives?” asked Shabazz.
Dr. Bambi Gaddist calls it an epidemic black folks don’t talk about, but should. She says help is also needed from the state, city and county leaders to treat and prevent the infections soon to come.
“Why is that important, because you’re looking at a whole new epidemic of young people who will not only have to contain the virus over the length of their life, which will be long, but they also have to prevent them from infecting someone else,” said Gaddist.
Shabazz says he sees that issue every week. “We can either obey, or disobey and perish,” he said.
According to DHEC, Richland County has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS cases, and has for 30 years. Gaddist says one way to remove the stigma is to get tested and have open conversations about the disease.