Dennis Caeton

Schlepping over the Rainbow

Tikkun Olam is an ancient Hebrew phrase for which Jewish scholars don’t agree on the exact meaning-is that a surprise? But its inexact meaning is to do social justice and includes not oppressing others and taking care of our children. Today, Tikkun Olam means we should stop promoting our children’s ignorance of sex and its practices and consequences-we’re killing them. We do that in many ways including mystifying and stigmatizing HIV/AIDS and, for some, denying that either exist.

Because HIV testing is fundamental to ridding the world of HIV/AIDS, Tikkun Olam means we should be doing all we can to make routine HIV testing into something no more controversial than a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control says it, President Obama says it and Isaiah says it. Shouldn’t the faith community be saying it too?

More personally, Tikkun Olam is defined by a grandma, a faithful church lady for 65 years who has taken an HIV test only so she can wave the results in her grandsons’ faces and say, “There I tested. Now it’s your turn.”

I believe Fresno can match this grandmother’s courage.

Tikkun Olam also means welcoming the stranger: that young African American, gay and proud, who comes to your mosque, your church or temple. Will he be asked to leave? Will some hope he leaves? Will he be welcomed-as he is? I believe in Fresno, it’s the latter.

In addition, Tikkun Olam means that someday expressions such as “Test,” “Use a condom,” “Needles must be clean” and “Anal sex must always be protected” will be uttered in houses of worship as comfortably as “love your neighbor,” “feed the hungry,” “comfort the sick” and “welcome the stranger.” Currently, the Gestalt to all these expressions, whether said alone or in combination, includes the projection of our fears. They’re my fears too. But don’t we all have to get past those fears?

Worldwide, about 35 million of us are HIV infected and 3 million or more of us are dying each year from AIDS.

For Fresno, the Public Health Department has this statement: Fresno-HIV/AIDS: Funding Cuts Impact Community Services.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is primarily passed from an HIV-infected person to another person through blood-to-blood contact, sexual contact, from mother to fetus in the womb or to the baby at birth, or through breast milk. An AIDS diagnosis is made when an HIV-infected person’s immune system is severely weakened and/or when an opportunistic infection develops. HIV and AIDS cases have been tracked in Fresno County since 1983. As of October 2009, a total of 1,684 cases of AIDS had been reported to the Fresno County Department of Public Health. Of these cases, 863 are known to have died as a result of the disease and 821 individuals are living with AIDS in Fresno County. In addition to the documented AIDS cases, approximately 800 HIV-infected individuals reside in Fresno County.

Until fiscal 2008-2009, individuals with HIV/AIDS residing in Fresno County had a broad selection of HIV education and prevention services and HIV/AIDS care services available. These services received federal and state funding through the California Department of Public Health’s Office of AIDS.

As a result of state budget cuts, funding for HIV/AIDS education and prevention services decreased by more than 60% in fiscal 2009-2010. Partner counseling and referral services at the local level were eliminated. The education and prevention programs, Men Who Have Sex with Men and Injection Drug Users, were also eliminated, which included an
outreach services component.

HIV counseling and testing services provided by the Fresno County Department of Public Health have been reduced in scope but are still available. Services to youth are limited but persons 12 years of age and older can receive HIV testing.

The Rapid HIV Testing Program maintains testing opportunities at no charge to the client on several days of each week. The Rapid HIV Test is an oral test method with no blood draw. Results are available in 20-30 minutes. Rapid Testing is offered on an anonymous or confidential basis. For anonymous testing, client and test results are identified by number only. For confidential testing, the client name is connected to the test and all information remains confidential.

Mobile site testing is available on a confidential basis only. For the current Rapid HIV Testing schedule, visit http://www.co.fresno.ca.us/publichealth/hivtestingschedule. The HIV/AIDS Care Program has been affected as well by a loss of revenue of approximately 50%. Program reductions include the elimination of the mental health, health education and treatment education services.

The Bridge Program continues to link clients to appropriate medical care and/or support programs on a reduced schedule of two days each week.

The HIV Care Services program continues to provide services under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). ADAP assists clients with payment for HIV medications. The department also continues to offer services under the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, which provides emergency assistance for clients who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The department continues to provide medical case management for 65 HIV-positive clients. University Medical Center (UMC) operates under a contract with the department. UMC continues to provide outpatient/ambulatory care, a psychosocial support group, as well as oral health care services to HIV/AIDS clients.

Mental health services are provided through referrals to UMC. The UMC Home-Based Case Management Program is no longer available. WestCare, also under a contract with the department, is another resource for HIV/AIDS clients in Fresno County. WestCare continues to provide case management for 60 clients and food pantry services at the Living Room location.

Services and support under the Outpatient Substance Abuse Program, Emergency Financial Assistance and Health Insurance Premiums were eliminated.

The department continues to conduct surveillance, investigation and monitoring of HIV/AIDS cases to assure the timeliness, accuracy and reliability of local data.

Statistics reflect a world with AIDS. Statistics can be dangerous if they don’t also invite us to imagine a world without AIDS. Isn’t that what the CDC and the President imagine when they say testing should be “routinized?”

Churches like Greater Mount Zion and Abyssinian in New York have routinized testing in response to the epidemic striking their young. They are part of a program, Balm of Gilead, which has stopped condemning lifestyles and orientations and now embraces the young with a new direction: testing, prevention and treatment.

Routinize also means that hospitals and emergency rooms will, as matter of routine, provide HIV testing. The CDC has published a protocol/recommendation for the routine testing of hospital patients.

How Fresno has responded to this new attitude of routinized testing will be addressed in another segment.

There are three plans if people want to save their children:

The “OMG” plan is abstinence-no sex, no drugs. This plan looks good on the drawing board, but it has been shown not to work. Why? For starters, each of us should just look at our own histories-it only takes one slip to get infected and (poof) there goes the plan. This is also known as “the parent plan” and the “stick your head in the sand plan.” But it is the “gold standard” and has value if we remember that the plan was made to help children. Children were not made for the plan.

Next is “Plan A.” It is the one we all dream of: Be born to a healthy mother, meet the love of your life (any gender) and have sex (any kind) but only with that person for the rest of your life. “Plan A” is what movies are made of, but is it realistic about human behavior? Besides, it depends on events and circumstances not available to everyone. And, remember the “one slip” rule.

Plan “Hello?” is the sinner’s plan. While not “Plan A,” if you’re going to walk on the wild side, even once–it is the best plan: Always engage in safe sex practices-behavior, condoms, etc. Always engage in safe drug use-clean, unused drug paraphernalia and avoiding the risky behavior that consequentially flows from drug use. Always know your HIV status and follow up–test, treat and safe and informed behavior.

Sex comes when we’re young and dumb. It is youth that drives us toward adventure, love, risk and even heroism. The lines are fine but that’s where the “village” comes in, and faith communities can be an important part of the “village.”

HIV testing is a great place for the faith community to start showing they love their children as they are and worship with them as they are.

Otherwise, are we saying, under our breath perhaps, “if they’re going to disobey us and have sex or use drugs, we don’t care if it is unsafe?”

Run that by Isaiah.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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