Louis Spraggins has worked diligently in the HIV/AIDS community since 1993; providing prevention to at-risk populations & those already affected by &/or with HIV in Chicago. In 2001, Louis learned that he himself had become infected. In May 2003, Louis transitioned into a direct care role as a Preventive Health Consultant working more so with African American men who have sex with men. From 2003-2005, Louis attended the African American HIV University at the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. After AAHU, he returned occasionally as both a teacher for new students of AAHU and in other various consultant positions for BAI. In 2005, Louis began his work as a Treatment Education Coordinator for the Treatment Education Adherence Management Program at Test Positive Aware Network. He worked to empower, educate & advocate for HIV+ peers & colleagues who work with HIV+ populations in the various communities they belong to. In 2009 Louis joined the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition & in 2010 was elected Vice President of the coalition's Board of Directors; serving for 1 year. In 2011, Louis returned to South Side Help Center where he is currently employed as a Regional Care Coordinator & works to facilitate linkage to medical care for newly diagnosed HIV+ persons & those who've fallen out of care as well as build &/or enhance relationships between community based organizations, HIV testing providers & HIV medical care providers. Additionally, he serves as the coordinator & co-chair of the Chicago Black Treatment Advocates Network & the program coordinator for the Health Is Sexy Lifestyle Cooperative.
HIV & Black Youth
We say that youth are one of our highest priorities, but I have to wonder just how high on our priority list youth fall. The majority of new HIV diagnoses occurred in people ages 15 to 29, a group that makes up only 21% of the U.S. population (2010 census). The overall number of new AIDS diagnoses among 13 to 24 year-olds has increased nearly every year from 2001 to 2010. Black youth make up the majority of youth diagnosed with & dying from HIV disease.
We're failing our youth, partially because we fail to listen to our youth. Youth voices are the most important if we want to "turn the tide" of the HIV epidemic amongst our youth. With access to the media center, here at AIDS 2012, I've seen a number of press conferences in progress & most of them were half full to over capacity. So, why is it that a press conference featuring a panel of youth leaders living with HIV had less than 7 attendees? Do we really prioritize our youth? Do we really want to hear their voices? The young leaders on the panel had wonderful recommendations, so I suggest you contact the members of GNP+ North America's Young Leader's Caucus to get them.
When asked if youth really don't care about HIV or if they are truly unaware, some of the responses were:
- youth are aware & interested, but the conversation isn't being brought to them at the right level;
- youth don't know how to breach that subject, but will ask questions if it's brought up appropriately
- care for HIV+ youth isn't provided in a holistic manner and adherence is too often used as a measure of treatment success, but better and more culturally competent measures need to be used
Black youth, living with HIV, affected by HIV and at risk for HIV must be included in efforts to end HIV's devastation of youth. They must be involved from conception to implementation to evaluation. They're only waiting for us to give them a respected seat at the table.
Black men who love other men… and have sex with them! Somehow, we are being hit the hardest by HIV in the US. Studies show that we practice safer sex more than other populations yet we are the hardest hit. Experience has taught me that most of us know at least the basics of what we need to do to avoid HIV as best we can and yet we are the hardest hit. Why are we the hardest hit by HIV? Part of it has to be that we’re still suffering from fear of others knowing that we have HIV after we’re diagnosed, afraid of being prosecuted legally and/or socially for having HIV and afraid to take HIV meds. or be caught with them.
This translates into not testing often, not disclosing our status to our sexual partners and not seeking treatment because someone we know may see us going into a place that treats people with HIV. All of this adds up to result in having more men in our community who are HIV positive with large amounts of HIV in our system. Of course not having the HIV in the body under control with medications means it’s much easier to give our virus to someone else. Another reason that comes to mind is that, like our Black sisters, we often put ourselves at risk in search of love… and sometimes in search of a good lay. Sometimes we’re willing to abuse each other for our own sake and yet sometimes we are willing to chance our health for the chance at love.
As I’ve worked with my peers over the years, I’ve run the gambit of emotions in reaction to these issues. I’ve felt anger, joy, sadness, elation, helplessness, empowerment, resilience, pride, shame, compassion, frustration, resignation, inspiration and far, far more. I know we are stronger than HIV and I know we can be more creative than HIV. We just have to tap into ourselves to beat this thing. I see the God in each of us. I’m just waiting on you to see it too.
Doctors MUST do BETTER! Imagine this… You are Black, female and HIV+. Despite all the stigma and fear you’ve experience surrounding your HIV status, you’ve gathered your strength and sought the medical care necessary to stay healthy and live happily. You’ve also met a good man who didn’t run away after you disclosed your status, who loved you all the more for loving yourself enough to seek treatment and being responsible enough to be honest and let him make the choice to continue to love and support you without fear of the virus that has complicated your life. Though he’s HIV-, he’s chosen to support and accompany you to your medical visits with your provider, the provider you’ve entrusted with your health and personal information. You and he sit in the lobby and your doctor approaches you, greets you and asks if the man beside you is your significant other. You beam with love and pride as you answer, yes. Your doctor turns to greet him and says “So YOU’RE the fiancé. You’re a brave man; a VERY brave man.” He smiles a bit awkwardly and says yes I’m her fiancé. The rest of the visit proceeds as usual, but after it ends and you’re on your way home with the man you love, the questions begin. “Is there anything else I need to know? What did she mean by that “brave man” comment?...” In less than 10 seconds, this doctor whom you trusted has caused turmoil in your love life. Who do you turn to? What do you do now? Should you look for another doc? Will you be able to get another doc? You find yourself feeling hurt, betrayed and enraged. This situation actually took place at one of the biggest HIV medical care providers in Chicago. We’re helping the sister find another doctor, but in the meantime… how many others has that doctor abused in this way? How can women feel safe in seeking care when things like this are allowed to happen? If we are to help people stay in care this kind of “care” need not be provided.