Human Interest

#PGOTD Observing #WorldAIDSDay: Rae Lewis-Thornton, AIDS Activist

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December 1 marks World AIDS Day, from the website stating “an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.” An estimated 34 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide. The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988. The year before that, a young, 23-year-old Rae Lewis-Thornton was notified of being HIV-positive after donating blood to the Red Cross, although she was infected in 1983. Her illness later transitioned to AIDS in 1992.

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December 1 also marks the day Lewis-Thornton releases her third and latest book, Unprotected: A Memoir.  In Unprotected, she talks candidly about how her troubled childhood led to her self-abuse. Her story became nationally known when was featured on the cover for the December 1994 issue of Essence Magazine. This being only a few years after the announcement of NBA great Magic Johnson becoming infected with HIV, it was now becoming clear that HIV wasn’t only affecting white, gay men as it was described to be in the late 80’s. Since then, the activist has used her star power educating people at numerous speaking engagements throughout the year and received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement Within A Regularly Scheduled News Program. She has dedicated her life to bring awareness to an illness that is widely-known but still so many are becoming infected at alarming rates daily. Last year, the activist sat down with Essence again to talk about her journey since being on the cover two decades ago.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, African American women accounted for 6,100 (29%) of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent African Americans. This number represents a decrease of 21% since 2008. Most new HIV infections among African American women (87%; 5,300) are attributed to heterosexual contact. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for African American women (38.1/100,000 population) was 20 times that of white women and almost 5 times that of Hispanic/Latino women.

In addition to being a public speaker and an author, Lewis-Thornton also has a line of fashion bracelets designed and handcrafted by the Emmy Award Winning AIDS Activist herself called the RLT Collection and in her down time, the Chicago resident loves to play with her dog Chloe and share with her followers her favorite types of tea as she is a self-proclaimed “tea expert.”

As a “Diva Living With AIDS” for over 30 years, Lewis-Thornton became infected at a time when the average life expectancy after being contracted with the disease was three years. She is living proof that becoming infected is no longer an immediate death sentence and every day there are new developments to prevent and treat HIV transmission.

In the USA, the number of new HIV infections reported have decreased from approximately 130,000 a year to 50,000 a year since the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, according to the CDC. Although the numbers may appear to be going down, Lewis-Thornton stresses communication with your partner to know of each others status before getting physical.

To find out how to become through social media about awareness-raising, visit the World AIDS Day website. Also, get tested, not only for HIV, but all sexually transmitted diseases and infections as they are the gate keeper to contracting HIV in the future. Lewis-Thornton will be live on Periscope today speaking from North Carolina A&T University.

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