Hope Unites Us
Together we can fight for the empowerment of individuals living with HIV/AIDS
by Belkis Fonseca Medina
Living with HIV, in all likelihood, is one of the toughest challenges a person can confront. As a health issue it turns life upside-down; but, more than anything else, this condition changes our status in the eyes of society. If we are not strong, if we do not address discrimination and protect our identities and dignity as individual human beings…then…we are left vulnerable, our health deteriorates, and the epidemic spreads.
I am a fifty-five-year-old woman, chemical engineer and university professor. Ever since I contracted the virus in 2001, I submitted myself to the noble cause of prevention, to the happiness of supporting and accompanying the HIV-positive community, to the spiritual transmission of teaching the art of living under new circumstances. The commitment of many volunteers, in Cuba and around the world, to do the same has been decisive in the battle with HIV.
The organization Centro Esperanza Cuba, of which I am director, is headquartered in Habana and coordinates with its branches throughout the pais. The strength of the organization is drawn from personal commitments, knowledge of the problem, and experience in communicating with HIV-positive communities. It also does an excellent job of integrating fellow volunteers who are not HIV-positive but who are sensitive regarding this matter. At the center, we work closely with the youth, the gay community, and boys and girls infected or affected by HIV. It is important to note that the organization was founded in March of 2015 and a big part of its success will benefit from the exchange of experiences, solidarity of international communities and organizations through direct contact, or events with people whose backgrounds, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ages, religious, gender and sexual orientation differ. In fact, it would be advantageous for the cause to establish relations and exchange strategies for the betterment of the standard of living and the reduction of infections of this epidemic, at the current state, and for future eradication of the problem.
Like everyone, I encountered difficult situations: rejection, incomprehension, solitude…. When “the world” gave me its back I turned it round and brought down the walls. I never let up. I made sure everyone learned a thing or two about the reality of HIV and about human values. I helped people accept me, made very good friends, and enjoy a plentiful life.
I am involved in all types of projects and that keeps me happy. I love nature, especially animals. I love working out and I have healthy habits (good nutrition, no alcohol, no cigarettes, positive thinking, and connection with the universe).
Despite the great work made by governments and health programs, the reality of HIV is experienced globally: Stigma and discrimination are true; people still don’t make good use of the condom; many of them are not compliant or do not adhere to the antiretroviral therapy; many healthcare providers are not expert in the issue; acknowledgment of success of mixed-status couples does not happen; and the fact that HIV-positive individuals can be successful in a healthy paternity or maternity is not fully recognized.
In Cuba, as in the rest of the world, the most common transmission of HIV is through sexual contact and, notwithstanding the increasing number of infections among the female population, gay men are the most affected segment of the population by far. Yet, do not assume that the virus is exclusive to homosexuals and marginalized individuals; anybody who has not taken the right steps is at risk and is in actuality vulnerable to any sexually transmitted disease. The best measure in prevention is the right usage of the condom. Take care of your life! Always take care of yourself!
Belkis Fonseca Medina is director of Centro Esperanza Cuba, a non-profit dedicated to resource assistance to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS and their families, prevention education, and ensuring psychological support and human rights of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. With its headquarters based in Havana, Cuba, the organization recently launched a safer sex campaign, Una Nueva Esperaza (A New Hope), this past World AIDS Day. For more information, visit: www.centroesperanzacuba.com. You may directly e-mail the organization at: [email protected]. Contact Belkis at [email protected].