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Phil Wilson, former president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, has been fighting HIV / AIDS in the black community for 40 years.

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Phil Wilson, former president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, has been fighting HIV / AIDS in the black community for 40 years.

Presley Ann / Getty Images

Twenty years after effective antiretroviral drugs became widely available for HIV, African Americans still account for 43% of new HIV diagnoses. They also died of COVID-19 at a rate 1.5 times that of whites.

A longtime activist, Phil Wilson has been fighting HIV / AIDS in the black community for 40 years. He said COVID-19 would be with the color community for a long time unless we learned from successes and failures in HIV / AIDS.

In 1981, Wilson was a young black man living in Chicago who had a physical examination of his then partner, Chris Brownley, and learned that his lymph nodes were swollen.

“And his doctor said something about this strange illness that gay men in New York and Los Angeles are suffering from,” Wilson said. “And that was basically everything he knew, and I also said that the lymph nodes were swollen-I had them for a while.”

Shortly thereafter, their softball teammate died suddenly of the same illness.

The disease will become known as AIDS.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1982, Wilson and Brownley joined the AIDS hotline. Americans believed that HIV / AIDS would primarily affect white gay men. Wilson said it never accurately portrayed who was dying.

“As you know now, from the early days, blacks accounted for 25% of new cases in the United States,” Wilson said. “Still, black women accounted for more than 50% of women diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Therefore, blacks are always disproportionately affected, underestimated for illness, underestimated for advocacy, and ill. Was underestimated for the resources devoted to the fight. “

Wilson founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999. When it was founded, effective antiretroviral treatments were on the market. But Black America was left behind.

The institute has begun to mobilize black community leaders, media organizations and other groups to become messengers of science, effective disease prevention and treatment.

Robert Furilab, a professor of public health at Columbia University, said Wilson’s critical early days argued that infectious diseases require not only biomedical solutions, but also social solutions. It was a voice. Wilson did it as a member of a stigmatized group: blacks, gays, HIV positive.

“I’ve found a way to break it all,” Wilson said.

“Before making a decision on what to do or how to do it, I want to at least look hard at the situation with the patient,” Flurab explained what Wilson did.

Wilson said the institute’s HIV / AIDS awareness campaign was successful and frustrated. He learned that to break the homophobia and HIV-positive stigma, you need to meet people where they are.

Wilson said, “We have a basic understanding that we are a community … we survived the Middle Passage together. We survived 300 years of slavery together. We When we face each other, we survive. Apart from us, we are actually suffering terribly. ”

But in a short order, Wilson said, “We were able to literally turn every black media organization in the United States into an HIV / AIDS information distribution platform.”

According to Wilson, one of the country’s most serious failures in responding to HIV / AIDS was the failure of black leaders to empower the community to convey knowledge. Unfair access to health care and distrust of existing health care also contributed. He said those same factors are causing an imbalanced rate of COVID-19 infection and mortality in the black community.

When Wilson retired three years ago, Lanya Copeland took over the operation of the institute. In addition to working on HIV / AIDS, the institute is currently partnering with the National Institutes of Health to educate the black community on coronavirus vaccines. Copeland says learning from HIV is important to ensure that the Covid-19 vaccine is widely adopted.

“And, especially for the black community, putting power back into the hands of the individual is really, really important,” Copeland said. “Massive COVID vaccination will not succeed unless we are committed to developing black leaders across the country who can admit medical distrust and help disseminate information directly to the black community.”

Another important step that public health officials need to understand, according to Copeland, is to allow people of color to make their own medical decisions about vaccines. It involves examining their existing distrust of the healthcare system.

“So, for us, it’s about informing people so they can make decisions for themselves,” she said. “So you don’t trust vaccines. Let’s actually take a step back. First, we have to affirm? This should make you feel like this, trust these systems It’s perfectly reasonable not to do it, but then … get the information you need to make an informed decision. “

The HIV community’s claim to eradicate both diseases is that the solution must be structural. Wilson, Coperland, and Fullilove point out some systematic solutions that claim to address the underlying reason that a viral pandemic causes the color community to get sick and die at a higher rate than white Americans. doing.

“If we are serious about the AIDS epidemic and the fight against COVID-19, what we have to do now is to build and strengthen institutions in these communities,” Wilson said.

“And people with HIV have said for a very long time that universal health insurance is preventative, and I think it also applies to COVID,” Copeland added.

Fullilove said declaration is also important. According to him, in the early days of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, imprisonment was a more powerful risk factor for HIV than being homosexual or injecting drugs.

“Prisons and parts of the underdeveloped world represent potential reservoirs where the virus can stay and mutate, and continue to make mutants, much like HIV does every 1.9 days. And when we don’t start the upstream solution. .COVID-19 will be together. ”

Wilson will be 65 in a few months. He learned about his position in his late twenties and remembers the doctor telling him to sort out his affairs. At that point, he made a decision to change his view of life.

“Dying will take care of itself, it wasn’t my job,” Wilson said. “My job was to focus on my life.”

Wilson and his doctor turned out to be over 36 years old, and he has no plans to cash his chips right away.

“So I’m glad I focused on living instead of focusing on dying, and it was a very, very happy journey and a gift of journey.”

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