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Today marks the 25th commemoration of World AIDS Day. This is a day for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from the devastating virus.

Women reportedly account for one in five new HIV diagnoses and deaths caused by AIDS — and most of these are minorities. African Americans and Hispanics represent 27 percent of all women in the U.S. but they account for 79 percent of AIDS cases among women.

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Earlier this month I attended a press conference and panel discussion at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, presented by OraSure Technologies, makers of the OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test and the Reed for Hope Foundation about healthy relationships and promoting responsibility as it relates to sexual health and HIV testing in the African-American community. Participating on the panel were Earvin “Magic” Johnson and special guests including Dr. Rachael Ross, Lala Vasquez Anthony and Demetria L. Lucas.

The discussion opened with Magic Johnson reliving the day he shared his HIV status with the world. He expressed the fear, embarrassment, frustration and worry that both he and his wife, Cookie, felt during that period. Though there was only one main drug on the market back then in the early 1990s when Magic announced his status, AZT; Magic attributes his early detection for being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle to date. Now the market has between 30-34 drugs to treat the virus, which has also attributed to the great strides made in research and awareness of HIV and AIDS.

The ladies on the panel, Lala Vasquez Anthony, Dr. Rachael Ross and Demetria Lucas all stressed the importance of knowing your status and also demanding to know the status of your partner(s). Too many times women allow men into their bedrooms without knowing their partner’s status and/or even requesting that they get tested. Two solutions offered by the panelists were to:

(a) inform your potential partner that you will not be sexually active with them until they take an HIV test and receive a clear status

(b) suggest that you two get tested together.

In an effort to help curtail the fears that plague many within the African-American and Latino communities, Magic Johnson also suggested that media outlets such as Allhiphop.com and HelloBeautiful.com continue to inform our readers about the importance of knowing your status and protecting yourself against HIV and AIDS.

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Particularly when dealing with young women, between the ages of 13-18, it is important for us, as adults, to be the role model for them when dealing with such issues. Show them that you are taking care of yourself mentally and physically so they may see you as an example and do the same. Offer the youth some advice about protecting themselves by abstaining, using condoms and getting healthcare check-ups on a routine basis.

Dorcas Young, HIV Program Administrator for Shelby County Government in Memphis, TN also notes, “It is absolutely important that people know their HIV status. I hear people say all the time that they would just rather not know, but we have made such strides in medical treatment that regardless of your status you can live a healthy, productive life. Magic Johnson’s story is not the exception. You can’t treat what you don’t know though.”

For more information about OraQuick, the first FDA-approved rapid HIV test consumers can use at home, please visit http://www.OraQuick.com. Also please visit http://www.lovehealthy.org for more information about RFHF.

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