iReporters share their stories on World AIDS Day
iReporter Chad Johnson was exposed to the HIV virus in July of 1984.
December 1st, 2011
07:13 AM ET

iReporters share their stories on World AIDS Day

Every year World AIDS Day is held on December 1 as an opportunity for countries and organizations around the globe to come together in their fight against the infectious disease. The Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS estimates that 30.8 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009.

In the United States, many people struggle with prevention, education and treatment. These iReporters shared their personal connection to HIV/AIDS with CNN.com.

Ben, 21, of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ben contracted AIDS from his partner of a year who hadn't told Ben that he had the disease. “I was shocked, a little scared,” he said. “[But] I had already done a lot of research so I knew what it was about.” He has been volunteering with HIV/AIDS awareness organizations for two years and is currently in a supportive relationship.

See Ben's story on iReport

Suzanne Taylor, 29, of Marietta, Georgia

Suzanne Taylor is the creator of "The Road We Know," documentary that focuses on the lives of a group of college students’ relationships with HIV/AIDS in Botswana, Africa. It took two months to film the documentary, which shows the problems and solutions that occur within the country, such as free drugs and the modernization of the African culture. Taylor hopes the movie inspires others to have conversations and get involved in their communities.

See her story on iReport

Ken Barton, 42, of Bowling Green, Kentucky

Ken Barton was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 22. "It's amazing to me because I've been HIV positive for 20 years without any kind of [medication]," he said. "That certainly wasn't the case when I got diagnosed. They pretty much said you're going to die and that was that." Five years after he was diagnosed, he started to plan a future and now celebrates his birthday as well as his diagnosis annually.

See his story on iReport

Kurt Weston of Huntington Beach, California

Kurt Weston contracted HIV in 1980 and developed full-blown AIDS in 1991. He then got diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which left visible lesions on his body before becoming legally blind in 1996. He went on to do visually-impaired photography and produced a body of work called Blind Vision, which he said, “represents some of the emotional and psychological weight of what I'm dealing with."

See his story on iReport

Omekongo Dibinga, 35, of Washington

Omekongo Dibinga’s family is from Congo. He has witnessed the effects of AIDS first in childhood, when a close family friend died in his 20s from the disease. One moment that was a “huge wake-up call” for many of Dibinga’s friends, he says, was the death of rapper Eazy E at the hands of the AIDS virus. It was then they realized that AIDS was not a disease that only affected the gay community. Dibinga wants more people to have access to medication. “This is not a conquered disease,” he said. “What affects one of us, affects all of us.”

See his story on iReport

Have you been affected by AIDS? To share your story, please visit our assignment on iReport.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Marie

    First, it didn’t seem that bad. He had a cold all the time... for a few months in a row. But we all get colds. I gave him Tang and tea. You can “cure” colds with those things.

    Then I noticed he didn’t eat anymore. We used to go get Reuben sandwiches. The last time we went, he just picked at the bread. I made him canned chicken soup, thinking it would help him. He didn’t eat that either. But he smiled at me, so that somehow made it okay.

    When the weather started to cool, he was always coughing. Once, he coughed blood into a napkin that he accidentally dropped on the floor. I went to pick it up for him, and he yelled to me to stop.

    “Don’t touch that!” His eyes, tinged with a hint yellow now, softened when he saw my tears. He never raised his voice before. He never did again.

    Shortly after that he asked, “Do you know what AIDS is?”

    “Of course. It’s all over the news.”

    And then, he revealed his secret to me, the reason he was always sick. I knew then that the “break” he took from his work was not temporary. He had begrudgingly devoted twelve years to train for this work. It always seemed funny he had left it, even if it was just temporary, even though it was work he loved to hate.

    My friend, the man who in many ways saved my life, was dying from AIDS. And I could do nothing to save him.

    His hair eventually fell out in patches. This was from a fungus I still to this day can’t name for you. It’s a thing that’s not supposed to affect you that way.

    Eventually, he got Mycobacterium Avium Complex or, as it is known, MAC. This comes from the soil and water. It’s not supposed to make you sick. He went to the hospital a lot after that.

    The MAC soon spread to his liver, causing severe abdominal pain. The look on his face at times was a cross between terrified and sad. When he saw me notice this, he would smile and tell an obnoxious joke. I would laugh. It made him feel better… I think. It made him feel, just for a moment, that he wasn’t dying.

    He only forgot my name once or twice. He was one of the lucky ones. It didn’t really take his brain. But he died on a warm, May evening from “complications” related to AIDS. His cause of death was never placed in his obituary. There was still too much shame.

    I know many have never seen this disease. I feel blessed to know this. I request though that you do what you can on December 1—World AIDS Day- a day created to encourage education about this disease.

    Many gains have been made. We can now test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. We can slow its progression with a series of Antiretroviral drugs (ARV’s for short). Many Americans with this disease will live well into their golden years. Their life will be changed from what it might have been. They will have to contend with side effects and they must constantly monitor their health. But many will survive, so long as they can afford the costly medications that keep the virus from reproducing.

    Given this, those living in more impoverished parts of the world face a different battle. They do not have access to the latest medications, partly due to cost, partly due to politics. They are still dying. Many who die are children. Many around the world also do not know how to prevent the disease. And even if they do, many do not take the precautions they know could prevent them from becoming infected. There are politics around that as well.

    I ask that you do what you can today and in the future to educate yourself and others about this disease. And I ask that you savor every bit of health you have. It is more precious than you may think.

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