Zero Out 

The MED Foundation launches a campaign to prevent all HIV-related deaths in Memphis.

Sienna Spight found out she was pregnant. And then she found out she was HIV-positive.

"I had just gotten tested in August 2010. But when I went back in January 2011 for some prenatal work, I found out I was positive," Spight said. "I can't completely blame [the guy] for it, because I knew it was unprotected [sex], and I didn't stop it. I chose to not let it affect my life, because at the time, I was pregnant. My main focus was that I had a healthy pregnancy."

The MED Foundation has launched the "Getting to Zero Campaign" to help reduce the number of HIV/AIDS-related deaths locally to zero. They hope to do this through education and hospital-based strategies that help HIV-positive individuals receive the physical care and medication they need to maintain good health.

There were nearly 8,000 people living in the Memphis metropolitan area with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2012 and 82 percent of those individuals are black. More than one million people nationally are living with the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

click to enlarge Sienna Spight
  • Sienna Spight

On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day this past Friday, The Regional Medical Center of Memphis (MED) held a cocktail gathering in the FedExForum's Fly Lounge to help raise money for the campaign and bring more awareness to the prevalence of the disease in Memphis. The event featured WMC-TV's Kontji Anthony and Memphis Grizzlies' Quincy Pondexter.

"People get tested, and nobody ever really expects to get those results back," said Tammie Ritchey, vice president of development for The MED Foundation. "It happens, and now it's this 'What do I do?' You go to the hospital. We meet with you [and ask], 'What do you need for your nutrition and care? What do you need to help you get healthy?' It's very important that you stay in care."

The MED also refers patients to other local care providers for transportation, housing, and financial aid.

The Ryan White Program, which provides federal funding to individuals with HIV/AIDS who are uninsured or underinsured, is one of the campaign's sponsors.

Dorcas Young, the Ryan White Program's administrator for Shelby County, said educating people on all aspects of the disease could contribute to a decline in its rates.

"If someone is HIV-positive and they're in care [and] taking the medicine they need to take, there is less than a four percent chance that they will pass HIV off to their partner," Young said. "We know that we can essentially prevent HIV if we can get everybody who is positive the treatment they need."

Xavier Weddington was diagnosed with HIV four years ago after having unprotected sex. Similar to Spight, he's since joined the movement locally to raise awareness for HIV/AIDs.

"This isn't something I would wish on anybody," Weddington said. "It's not the end. There is life after. You can still achieve your dreams, but at the same time, it still puts a limitation on you. If you don't have to go down this road, then don't go down it. Protect yourself. Get tested regularly. Do what you have to do."

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