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Comments by
Denise Stokes

Member of the
Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS

Delivered at the announcement of a new initiative to address
HIV/AIDS in racial and ethnic minorities (The White House, October 28, 1998)

When we talk about AIDS, we talk a lot about numbers. Numbers that can be overwhelming or intimidating. But we need to look more closely at the numbers ... until we begin to see the real lives they represent.

Today, I'd like to share a few personal numbers with you. The first numbers are 13 and 16. I was infected with HIV at 13 and diagnosed at 16. While my peers were planning their futures, I was being harshly that I would not live to see 21. That was the year I realized some children die before they having a chance live.

Photograph of President Clinton, Rep. Waters, and Denise StokesThe next number is 3. That's how many years it took for me to get the information I needed to combat my disease. I didn't learn that HIV was a sexually transmitted disease until I was almost 20. No one in my community was willing to talk to someone else's child about sex - or about AIDS. I suffered greatly with a severe case of unanswered questions. Many youth today are being tragically diagnosed in the prime of their lives because we are too timid to talk candidly about AIDS. We are too afraid to keep our children alive long enough to make healthier choices.

13. That's how many pills I take each day to help sustain my health. Pills that are not easy to take and that leave me feeling nauseated and tired. But they are all I have right now - and they keep me alive, I am happy to have them. But they are pills that are not easy to come by. Many of my peers have no access to the latest medicines. Therefore, they have no access to the hope experienced by many - with each new improvement. They sit by and watch people live longer, healthier lives while they still suffer with preventable infections.

5. That's how many hours I sat on a hospital curb in my own urine while trying to get treatment for an allergy to an AIDS medicine. 5 hours of suffering when I was only a hundred feet from the source that could alleviate the fierce itching and burning was ravaging my swollen body. But no one had the time to help me. It wasn't in anyone's job description to escort a patient to the pharmacy. Especially an undesirable looking patient like I was that day. I experienced the same indifference that many people in my community experience when seeking care. We are not able to walk into hospitals waving insurance cards or cash. We are not able access the good, quality healthcare that all human beings deserve. While we muster the strength and courage to take an active role in our care, we are being stripped of our dignity by the system that's supposed to help us.

- Look into the eyes of one person being diagnosed with HIV for the 1st time.
- Tell a homeless young man with HIV that he has to wait one more year to get housing because the resources are not yet available.
- Tell one young woman that you can't fill her prescription for the medicine that will give her life - because she has no money.
- Tell one child this his mother won't be coming home anymore because she died today of AIDS related complications.

Do any one of these things and you will understand what this 156 million dollars means to black and other minority communities. This initiative is important because the moneys allocated and the commitments made here today will positively impact communities in dire need of support services. And just maybe, not one more of these travesties will occur on my home-front.

The last number I want to share with you today is Zero. I demand that we be liable until there are no new infections. That we do what's necessary to save lifes and not what's popular. Until there are no more people desperately seeking care only to find the doors closed. Until there are no more people suffering with AIDS, we have to stay committed. Just as committed as the President, The Vice President and The Congressional Black Caucus. Just as committed as Sandra Thurman, Secretary Shalala, Dr. Satcher, The Advisory Council on AIDS and many others who worked tirelessly on this important issue.

Zero is our goal. Because no more can we sit idly by and watch AIDS consume minority communities. We must maintain the momentum that we have gained today - because HIV is maintaining its momentum.

No more addicts needlessly infected with one disease simply because they have another one. Addicts should have the services AND the tools they need for effective prevention.

No more lives thrown carelessly aside
No more memorial services
No more screaming mothers
No more broken spirits ... or broken hearts.
No more disparity in minority communities.
No - more - AIDS.




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