amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Speak Up on National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Several years ago, Chinese-American medical student Eric Zheng (not his real name) moved to San Francisco to start his residency and find love among the winding, pastel-colored houses of the City by the Bay. Soon after arriving, he found out that he was HIV positive. When his doctor told him the news, Eric thought all was lost. “I heard his words, but I couldn’t believe him.”

Seeing a ruined future, his body “crumbled to the floor.” But, as Eric shares in a heartfelt video (see below), that same doctor helped Eric stand up and said: “All the truly important things in life, you haven’t lost. If it’s your career, you can still have that, and if it’s love you’re looking for, you can still find that.”

Eric’s story is one of many being shared as part of National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which is on May 19. The annual awareness day was launched in 2005 to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and this year organizations around the country will hold events including sexual health workshops, a “yogathon,” and free rapid HIV testing.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Banyon Tree Project, HIV/AIDS-related stigma among Asians and Pacific Islanders is different than that for groups considered more at-risk, such as gay and black populations. While there is a similar risk of “severe individual, family, and community shame or disgrace associated with HIV,” there is an additional reticence that prevents honest discussions on sex and HIV in general. Asians and Pacific Islanders are often “afraid to get tested for fear of rejection by family and community. Getting tested might expose a secret, such as sexuality or drug use, both heavily stigmatized.” Additionally, many “health providers believe Asians and Pacific Islanders are ‘low risk’ for HIV infection,” and may consider testing for them unnecessary and not offer or recommend an HIV test.

But after his initial fear of HIV, Eric was able to accept his status and get on the proper treatment. He finished his residency, trained to be an HIV physician, and is now Dr. Zheng. He understands that when one of his patients tests positive for HIV, he can offer a story that is fundamentally hopeful: his own. Dr. Zheng’s career has taken off and he is optimistic that the true love he came to San Francisco to find is around the corner. He is thriving both professionally and personally.

He recently met a patient who had been diagnosed with pneumonia and AIDS. Dr. Zhang introduced himself, and told him that he also was HIV positive. And then he reminded his new patient: “All the important things in life, you haven’t lost.”

More clicks:

National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Homepage

More stories of HIV in the Asian and Pacific Islander community

Events happening on National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Get tested