By Wilda Wong

As I stood watching Promotora Elizabeth Valdez give a talk about sexual health in front of people waiting at a bus stop in Calexico, I was immediately taken back to the day I tagged along with a group of educators in a small rural town in South Africa as they demonstrated the use of and distributed female condoms on the inaugural Global Female Condom Day in September 2012. They provided condom demonstrations in front of shops, at fruit stalls, on loaded buses, and wherever groups of people gathered, much in the same way Ms. Valdez and other Planned Parenthood promotores offer informal info sessions in public spaces in Imperial Valley.

I was an HIV/AIDS outreach worker in South Africa in a Peace Corps program partially funded by PEPFAR (The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief signed by President George W. Bush), assigned to an NGO in the far northeast corner of South Africa—near the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique—whose mission was to generate an attitude of zero tolerance towards sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and HIV/AIDS-related stigma in the area. Due to persistent myths on how to cure oneself of AIDS, sexual assault and abuse are drivers of HIV in the country.

Now, as part of the Planned Parenthood staff, I’m proud to hear about the work that our promotores do on a daily basis in Coachella and Imperial Valleys.

World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. According to the CDC, there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS, with 2.5 million new infections just in 2011 alone.

This November I had the pleasure of introducing David Mohan Gray’s FIRE IN THE BLOOD at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. The documentary, about the struggle to bring affordable antiretroviral medications to resource-poor countries, carries some personal significance; in the South African community where I served I have seen how antiretroviral therapy helps many live a more normal daily existence—going to school, going to work, and curbing their viral load to prevent spreading infection.

To get such treatment, however, one needs to know his/her status. Nearly 210,000 Americans—nearly 1 out of 5—currently living with HIV do not know they are infected. According to estimates from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), 3,200 people in San Diego County are HIV-positive and unaware of their status. Knowing your status is the first step to staying healthy and preventing the spread of HIV.

At Planned Parenthood, we believe that sex education, HIV testing, access to contraception, and connecting patients who need additional care with trusted, quality resources are all important HIV prevention tools. Find out where to get tested at

On World AIDS Day, we remember the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world, and commemorate those we have lost. Through research and prevention efforts, we can achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

World AIDS Day events in the region

On Saturday, November 30, the AFABI (Agencia Familiar Binacional) 15th Annual AIDS Walk will take place 3:00–9:00pm at Ave. Mutualismo #923 between 3rd and 4th Streets in Zona Centro in Tijuana.

On Sunday, December 1, Planned Parenthood is participating in the Faith-Based Action Coalition-sponsored prayer walk and vigil on December 1, starting at Our Place/San Ysidro Health Center, at 286 Euclid Avenue in San Diego. The group will walk to the “Four Corners of Life” at Euclid and Imperial Avenue.

Also on December 1, a World AIDS Day celebration coordinated by the Binational HIV Committee (which Planned Parenthood is a part of) will take place in Tijuana, where Planned Parenthood will be providing information at various locations on where people can go get tested for HIV.

This year Planned Parenthood will once again participate in the 25th annual Truax Award—given annually to recognize the outstanding overall contributions made by a person involved in the struggle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our community—was created to honor the memory of Dr. Brad Truax, who died in 1988 after being diagnosed with AIDS. He was one of the first physicians in San Diego to treat people with AIDS, advocated for laws to protect people with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and helped establish and later chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS in 1983. The award will be presented at the San Diego LGBT Community Center (“The Center”) in a ceremony beginning 3:30 p.m on Sunday, December 1. Spanish interpretation will be provided.

Following the award ceremony, a candlelight walk will proceed from the center to Village Hillcrest at 3965 Fifth Avenue for the 22nd annual Tree of Life Tree Lighting Ceremony, from 5:00–7:00 p.m. The ceremony honors those affected by AIDS and recognizes the ongoing leadership efforts made to end the worldwide epidemic. The trees are decorated with ornaments the public can purchase at, and will remain on display throughout the holiday season at Village Hillcrest. All proceeds from the ceremony benefit Mama’s Kitchen, San Diego’s only free county-wide meal delivery service for men, women and children affected by AIDS or cancer.

On Thursday, December 5, Planned Parenthood’s Chula Vista health center is offering satellite testing services on the campus of Southwestern College (900 Otay Lakes Rd. Chula Vista, CA 91910) from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

On Friday, December 6, Planned Parenthood is supporting the TRACE Program—a community-service-based peer education program in partnership with Planned Parenthood—at the La Jolla Country Day School AIDS Walk.

The U.S. Conference on AIDS will be held in San Diego in October 2014, with Planned Parenthood on its planning committee.


World AIDS Day resources: