It is estimated that nearly 35 million people worldwide was living with HIV/AIDS in 2013. Out of this estimation, 3.2 million were children according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It was estimated that 2.1 million individuals became newly infected with HIV in 2013. According to the UNAIDS report, 19 million out of the 35 million people living with HIV today do not know that they are infected with the virus. Alarming right? Yes, I think so! This is not something that people should take lightly and turn a blind eye to. One has to be informed; educate themselves and take every precautionary measures that prevent them from becoming the next victim of this deadly disease. Today is World AIDS Day and in recognition of that, I had the pleasure of talking to Zulema Simeon Yisra’El who is a HIV/AIDS facilitator for University of Penn and the American Red Cross. Zulema who is passionate about what she does and is a “no holds barred” speaker set the record straight on the misconception that sometimes surrounds HIV/AIDS. From who contracts it, how you can contract it, prevention, relationships, and being able to talk about things that most are afraid to talk about. Needless to say we got right into the discussion!
Zulema: I understand that you want to be focused in separation but in essence physically we’re not separated. We keep talking this we Israel and that… that’s a disease for people that’s out there doing whatever but, no it’s not! Because you don’t have to get it sexually, you know you can get HIV through different ways; blood to blood contact, that’s one of the main ways to get it; blood to blood. That can happen in a fight, it can happen cooking; some can be cooking and cut themselves and happen to infect somebody else because they have the blood on knives or the cooking utensils. Another thing is our community doesn’t talk about HIV anymore the way that we were a couple of years back. It’s like it’s not even discussed in our households but people are still dying today from it. And we do have people talking about HIV don’t exist but I see people every day with HIV and they’re dying from it every single day. It’s the HIV Infectious Specialist that knows all the information. The nurses themselves be having incorrect information, the news; the media they put out wrong information. For instance they say, “Did you go get an AIDs test?” There is no such thing as an AIDS test. So and with the polygamy, we don’t talk about in our relationships this HIV thing… syphilis and different venereal diseases that you can get. See listen just because you get an Israelite brother or sisters don’t mean that their past is clean. They could have got to and have some stuff than changed their life when they got with you and then you got something. So we need to be speaking out, going to the doctors, getting checked out but even with doing that you still don’t know. Because you could have went and got your blood tested and it didn’t show up on the test yet because your T cells are still high. Look see, if I get with someone and we have sex unprotected sex and so now I have HIV because I thought their test was correct but it was a false negative.
Eshet: Let me ask you this, why do you think that now within the community HIV is not discussed as much anymore. Is it because they have medications where people are living longer with it now? Or perhaps they know a bit more about it than they did years ago?
Zulema: You know what I am thinking number one it goes back to the man with the media. See before they were pumping that out.. it was a money issue… it was a money thing because they were getting kinds of money from the government to do HIV. That’s how I started doing what I am doing because they were pumping money into our communities for us to and get trained; to educate our communities on HIV and AIDS. But I’m thinking that, I don’t know what happened where they abandoned that because they were getting money for that. It’s not that they cared about our life they were just getting this government money and you know what they do when they get that nonprofit research money, but I don’t know what happened with that. But within our community we really weren’t talking about it, we were just really listening to what they were telling us about it. Because when most of my couples that I have facilitated to, they didn’t talk about condoms. Cause it was a thing of “we’ve been together for six years why should we use a condom, what you think I’m cheating on you, what you don’t trust me, what you’re doing something” they went through all that to that conversation in our community is not even talked about. Cause the first thing is infidelity; “what you cheating on me, what you don’t trust me?” Now in my own life I wasn’t using condoms when I got with my daughters father. But when I was about seven months pregnant that’s when we started using condoms, that’s when I started going to the University of Pennsylvania doing the HIV thing and all the way up to this recent time period we were using condoms still. Why? “Because it was I don’t know what you’re doing honestly, I’m sorry I might be the first woman to tell you that, but I don’t know what you’re doing. We’re not together all the time and I am not going with the ways of the Most High. I have a brain, I don’t trust you, so you have to strap up well he had to strap up.”
Eshet: What is your title?
Zulema: I’m a HIV/AIDS facilitator. Yeah that’s what I do and I do that for University of Pennsylvania and American Red Cross and I do parent & teen communication. That’s another big piece; parent and teen communication. My big platform is (this is what I teach at University of Penn) don’t tell your children that they can talk to you about anything, that’s not a message. You give your kids that message that they need. You tell them if you’re going to have sex let it be your husband your wife… using a condom… you know you tell them all about the things you need to tell them about when it comes to sex. Or protecting themselves our in the street from getting raped, robbed, you know all the criminal activity. You have to tell your child what to do. You give them options and alternatives; if you get in a situation this is one of the ways you can handle it or several ways you can handle it. Don’t just say we can talk cause I had a whole class of parents who told me, “Me and my kids we right here, the ages was 7-15… all the parents in my class room, “I told my kids they can talk to me about whatever.” Now their children were in another classroom. I go in there and we merge the parents together than when the kids get separate, so they had a camera sitting right in front of the children. They had the children in a circle sitting in chairs and the camera right in the middle. The facilitator was asking them while we were in another room, “What are some ways to show your love and affection without having sex?” The kids from 7, 8, and 9 years old was in there on the camera saying, “you can do boo love, you can do boo love.” So the facilitator said, “What is boo love?” They got up and started demonstrating and doing all this; saying what boo love was. Now parents are in the class and they’re getting paid, the kids are getting paid $60 and the parents are getting paid $160. The parents come in the classroom and the facilitator starts the whole workshop over again. The kids would not open their mouth (they wouldn’t say nothing). So I had to threaten the children; you and your parents will not be compensated if you do not participate in this research study. They started opening their mouth at that point, but parents I thought you and your kid were close. And we had a camera and they knew we were taping them, but when the parents came in the room they shut down. Than one guy told me that his daughter better not come home pregnant because I’m going to kill her. That’s not a message. You have to tell you daughter why not to come home pregnant, tell your daughter about a husband, about responsibility, about waiting, about getting yourself together, not I’m going to kill you. First of all your daughter she 17 years old, she already know that daddy is not crazy, he’s not going to physically hurt me so that’s not a message. We want to actually give our kids tools.
Eshet: Have you ever counseled a couple that was HIV positive?
Zulema: Oh yeah, now I have a story about that. I had a woman who was married. She went to Planned Parenthood downtown her and her daughter. She found out she was HIV positive. She left and walked about two blocks and she been with this man the whole time (her daughter is about 15 or something like that). They went to the sub and the sub is not coming. The sub runs every 4 minutes. The sub is not coming. She planned to jump the train while her daughter was standing there. She looking, and looking, looking and it’s never coming, never coming. Its 10-15 minutes later the sub is not there and it’s still not there. The latest it ever comes is 6 minutes. She like damn where is the train at. That whole time she just set and thought and by the time the train probably can she didn’t jump. The Most High held that train back for her to get her mind right. But my point is that was her husband that she trusted and who she was with all these years, he gave it to her. And now my older clients; 60 years old all went to the doctors and “I was shocked because the doctors asked me if I had a HIV test. And I looked at the doctor and was like huh, huh I’m married so the doctor said to her and I was completely shocked,” this is what the woman said. That’s another problem; the older population is at huge risk. Nobody thinks that the older population like 50, 60, and 70 years old they still be having sex a lot of them still have sex and for some reason they feel removed. Cause they grew up in the 60’s, 70’s were you had that free sex you know that hippie, love & peace so today they not really with that. They set in their ways you know what I mean so that’s a huge… a big population the older folks with HIV and AIDs.
Eshet: How often would you recommend a person get tested?
Zulema: I would say, well it depends on the situation. If you’re just a normal person that’s not promiscuous and have maybe safe sex or whatever than I would say every 6 months. Every time you get your pap smear and all that I would say get that checked. Now if you’re a person who has unprotected sex, than I would probably go about every 3 months. The reason why I say every 3 months is because you don’t want to go ahead of time because it takes it takes time for you T cells to drop and you don’t want to get a false read. Everybody system is different. Now rape victims they have the kit; you know that next day kit they can get and ummm the only reason why that works is because they can stop it. It’s because their T cells are still high. So this is another subject people like professionals don’t want to get into. Because it starts a lot of confusion, but say if you got raped and they rushed you off to the hospital, they can give you medication to kill it. It can kill it right now because all your T cells are fighting but what happens is when it starts breaking down one HIV virus goes and attacks one good cell and it eats that away now it doubles… it duplicates now you have two. Those two are hungry, they see two other cells, they attack those two and make two more and it keeps… it doubles, doubles, doubles and just keep going and before you know it you have the HIV.
Eshet: Is the HIV/AIDs more prevalent in the African-American/Black community or is that just a misconception?
Zulema: Well you know statistics is all mumbo jumbo but in everyday life I don’t see it no prevalent because it is all over now. See before remember in the 80’s it was they were saying it was gays… no today everybody has it. What you have to say is, is more prevalent in people who are having unprotected sex; that’s doing risky behaviors? That’s what you have to say today because today everybody has it. Of course they want the world to think that just minorities have it but no everybody has it; rich people, doctors, everybody can get HIV. It depends on your behavior… risky behavior; whether it’s sexual or irresponsible. You see blood at the job and you clean some blood up, you got a cut no….. and you can get AIDS see a lot of brothers don’t understand you can get HIV/AIDS from oral sex. Now I’m not going to F**k her but she can suck my… naw you can get it from that. Miseducation and we don’t talk about this at all in our community anymore. The Most High did say I will put disease on you that are not even in this book (The Bible).
Eshet: I did see something on Facebook and I was wondering if it was true about the woman who contracted herpes from eating something.
Zulema: I believe it I believe
Eshet: And it was something recently where they said a woman contracted HIV from a pedicure.
Zulema: I did hear that. If you don’t clean it… it’s blood to blood… urine…. milk… semen. if you come into contact with that, I already said that but a blood transfusion the risk is really low but people have gotten HIV through a blood transfusion but they have gotten real tight on checking the blood to make sure it’s okay.
Eshet: So if you had an overall message that you wanted to say to everybody what would you say?
Zulema: My thing is when it comes to your health and your relationships you got to be open, you got to be honest, you have to talk. You have to talk about children. See that’s another thing, you don’t want to get your girl pregnant or you get pregnant and your man come and bring you something. You have a baby inside of you. These are things we need to talk about. And like with the polygamy that is another subject…. I don’t know what the next woman is doing and I can’t be like she is not doing anything because I don’t know. So that’s what I would say, we have to be open and honest and be willing to have dialogue about sensitive issues.