World Aids Day: Know Your Status – The Alicia Diggs Story

by Alana Allen | November 15th, 2014
Alicia Diggs (Photo by Alana Allen)

Alicia Diggs (Photo by Alana Allen)

On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing cases of a rare lung infection, pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, attacking five young, previously healthy gay men in the Los Angeles area. Each man had other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems hadn’t been working. This edition of the MMWR marked the first official reporting of what would later become known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, better known as HIV/AIDS.

Around the same time it was discovered that an aggressive form of cancer, kaposi’s sarcoma, had developed around a group of gay men in California and New York. By the end of 1981, there were 270 reported cases; with 121 of those individuals dying. However, there was little in the way of conclusive information about what exactly the disease was or the way it was contracted. Many people looked upon those infected with a sense of fear and contempt.

Over three decades later there is still much confusion and mistreatment toward individuals infected with the disease. However, if there is one person who is able to separate the truth from fiction when it comes to HIV/ AIDS awareness, it’s Alicia Diggs. She has spent the better portion of her life educating others about it. Growing up in Philadelphia, Alicia recalls joining her brother in distributing pamphlets in their local neighborhood.

“There was never an excuse to not be made fully aware of the risks involved with any kind of sexual behavior whenever you came into contact with me,” says Alicia. Alicia’s knowledge of the subject took an entirely new meaning on December 13, 2001. It was around this time when Alicia began experiencing intense, flu-like symptoms. Coming from a family with a prevalent history of cancer, she went into the doctor’s office that day for what was supposed to be a routine biopsy. Instead, she left with the news that she tested positive for HIV.

HIV is an infection that weakens the body’s immune system by destroying the important T-cells or CD4 cells that fight disease. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body is unable to ward off infections and diseases. The latter stages of HIV are referred to as AIDS. While there is no cure or vaccine for HIV, antiretroviral treatment can slow down its progress and allow those infected to lead a fairly normal lifespan.

The news came as a shock. Not only was Alicia recently married, but she had abstained from all sexual activity in the years prior to her marriage. She eventually discovered that she contracted HIV from her then-husband, who was untruthful in revealing his past medical history. “All kinds of thoughts were swirling through my head at that moment. I didn’t know if I’d live to see my children (from a previous relationship) grow up or become a grandparent,” said Alicia. Thankfully, she has lived to see both of her adult children go on to lead productive lives. She hasn’t allowed HIV to slow down her life either.

In 2004, Alicia made a bold decision to take her story public. Her transparency has allowed her to heal internally from past bitterness, while empowering, encouraging and educating others. In 2009, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She obtained her master’s degree in public health last spring from Capella University. In addition to her numerous speaking engagements, Alicia volunteers with the Triad Health Project and Piedmont Health Services and Sickle Cell Agency, and is a board member of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. The month of December is of great significance to Alicia since it contains two events she actively participates in: World Aids Day and the 23rd Annual Winter Walk for AIDS. The walk is a community one-mile walk and 5K run that raises money and awareness to benefit Triad Health Project’s client services and prevention programs. It will be held Sunday, December 7, on the campus of UNC Greensboro.

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