According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), there are more than 1 million HIV+ people living in the United States with more than 200,000 of those unaware that they’re even infected. Of the million+ people infected, more than 18,000 will die in 2010. And that’s nothing when adding the rest of the world into the equation; best estimates put the number of infected people close to 35 million. On a local level here in Michigan, women accounted for 25% of all new AIDS cases in this state last year and the rate of new infections among teens between the ages of 13-19 had doubled since 2006. People of color have also experienced unprecedented increases in HIV and AIDS in the last decade.
HIV is a human disease. This means that contrary to what you may or may not have heard, it can infect anyone. And while there are lists detailing ways HIV is spread, a huge factor in its increase is a lack of education on the subject. Fortunately, when it comes to education and programs if you live in southeast Michigan, there’s the Michigan AIDS Coalition.
The Michigan AIDS Coalition (MAC) exists today as a merger between the Michigan AIDS Fund and the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, thereby creating a combined 30 years of HIV/AIDS advocacy, education and outreach experience. Between the two MAC offices–one in Ferndale and the other in Detroit–the organization offers HIV Testing, counseling, education programs, advocacy, bolstering self-esteem, sensitivity training, W.A.G.S. (a program that assists people with HIV/AIDS in caring for their pets) and a great deal more.
These programs all come with a price, however, and as MAC’s CEO, Helen Hicks, points out, the current economic conditions haven’t helped. All non-profit organizations have taken a hit over the past several years, so donations continue to be needed and welcomed. For more information about all that MAC has to offer, to donate or read Helen’s Blog, check out the Michigan AIDS Coalition’s site.
A National Look
We then decided to expand our search from a local standpoint and take a look at the sites that are out there on a national level and, as we did with National Breast Awareness Month, see what features of them we liked and what we thought could use a little attention.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/)
This is probably one of the most comprehensive sites out there. It’s information-heavy, embraces social media, offers podcasts, e-mail updates, a site-map, how to link to the site, versions of the site in nine languages and then some term translations in additional languages. The master navigation at the top is helpful if you already know what you’re looking for and there’s a notification at the bottom telling you the last time the site was updated. Some real effort went into this one. The only things we thought could use some finesse is how busy the pages tend to look and feel. There’s so much information that it feels a little overwhelming, but that’s really a small complaint considering what the site is offering. It might be nice, too, if there was an area with recent updates or current additions/news items.
Not nearly as information-heavy as the CDCs site, this one looks to still be in its online infancy. Fortunately, it’s easy on the eyes, easy to navigate, there are recent headlines, posts and a detailed site map. There’s a search feature and while we like to see those, it really doesn’t come back with much after putting in simple single keyword searches. Complicating the search feature is an ad that pops up if you run your cursor over it and covers the search box, making it a hassle to get to. Furthermore, clicking on the “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the page gives you a prompt to open up an application versus clicking on the “Contact Us” at the top in the “About Us” navigation, which actually takes you to a contact page. So, some good information, but the site still has some bugs and doesn’t feel like it’s been around very long.
The Body (http://www.thebody.com/)
This is a site that claims to be the complete HIV/AIDS resource and you know what? We’re not going to argue. Like the CDC’s site, this one is a little overwhelming to look at, but the navigation is user friendly, the main information topics you’re probably looking for is right there at your fingertips and there’s a wonderful selection of blogs, which keeps the site relevant and most likely keeps folks coming back. There’s a search function that yield solid results from the site, a video series, the ability to sign up for e-mail updates, contests, an extensive forum, the site in Spanish and the ability to contact the site or ask an expert a question that may not be addressed. The only minor thing we’d suggest is a different color scheme. The site is meant to be an uplifting one, yet the darker color used tends to bring things down to a sobering tone. Okay, we’d also like to see them embrace social media. How about a Facebook page? Why aren’t they tweeting? Despite those areas that could use some improvement, of the three national sites we’ve looked at, this is the one we were most impressed with.
AIDS is an epidemic, but it doesn’t mean somebody’s life automatically ends after being diagnosed as HIV+. The first thing we can hope for is prevention of future cases, which starts with education and these sites, including the local Michigan AIDS Coalition site, offer information that can help with this. Beyond that, we can donate money to increase funding for research and one day, hopefully, a cure and even our time to those suffering from it. Please join us at TM as we kick off recognizing National AIDS Awareness Month.