Since the mid-1990s, HIV testing and preventive interventions have caused a 90 percent decline in the number of children perinatally infected with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But for Cynthia Fair, Elon University professor of human services studies and public health studies coordinator, there is still room for further progress.
Fair continues to work tirelessly to improve the lives of and raise awareness about young adults affected by HIV.
Students and faculty attended Fair's Distinguished Scholar Award Lecture Tuesday night the LaRose Digital Theatre.
“Try and put yourselves in the shoes of someone who was born with HIV,” Fair said. “There are so many issues they face, and new ones come with new stages in life.”
The lecture “Learning to Live: 25 years of pediatric HIV” focused on Fair’s experiences as a social worker at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During her time there in the 1990s, she worked alongside families of children and adolescents with perinatally-acquired HIV.
She now works with young adults who have the virus and documents the experiences of individuals who were not expected to survive to adulthood.
“People do not have diseases; they have stories," Fair said.
Much of her focus aims at promoting general measures of wellness and how people live with the chronic, but not terminal, illness.
Fair said the 10,000 children and adolescents in the United States that live with perinatally-acquired HIV wrestle with complex medical and social issues on a daily basis.
Because HIV and AIDS have existed in humans for approximately 40 years, there is still a need to educate the general U.S. population and combat harmful stigmas.
“Since the first documented case, over 39 million people have died," Fair said. "The disease has highlighted social fissures that pertain to race, sexual preference and gender, and it certainly has created many stigmas. And this is all in the last 40 years.”
She encouraged the audience to view individuals with HIV or AIDS as people, not statistics. She added they should not be avoided physically or in conversation.
Fair used quotes and personal experiences — she only shared the first names of her patients — to explain how individuals with HIV or AIDS are required by law to share their condition before any act of sex. In the state of North Carolina, failure to do so can result in up to two years in federal prison.
“These are teenagers: they date, and they have sex,” Fair said. “So some of the hardest times in their lives revolve around sharing that information. Many feel that if they do, they will lose the ones they most care about and that no one will ever love them. It’s sad because many abstain from dating all together.”
Fair ended her presentation with a positive slide reading “Don’t blame positive people. No to stigma, discrimination and criminalization.”