As we approach World AIDS Day and I reflect upon where we are, what we have achieved, and what can still be done to help combat this disease, it remains that HIV/AIDS is a relevant factor in all of our lives and that EVERY 9 1/2 MINUTES someone NEW IS infected with the virus. Much still needs to be done to help battle the stigma, bias, and fear that many in our society still have. Yet here is what we do know for sure . . . if you are not HIV+ then there is no reason to become infected if you practice safe practices. Condom use, getting tested on a regular basis, using universal precaution measures in health settings, the testing of donated blood have been vitally important to decreasing the transmission of this disease. So the questions should now be “what are we not doing” and “how can we find ways to better reach the public to increase awareness, education and prevention”.
Many of the fears, biases and stigma associated with the disease are based upon the uncertainties associated with its early origins. This disease shook the health industry and community; so many of the attitudes associated with it are based upon those early fears and perceptions. Yet 30 plus years later and all of the amazing advances in not only treating this disease, but also in what is known to be true and what is known not to be true, the myths still persist. PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) is a therapy that is showing great results in preventing new infections. Early education, prevention for youth and adults, and testing in all pre-natal and all emergency room settings has been instrumental in finding and treating new cases of HIV and reducing the spread of HIV.
If we don’t find ways to combat the stigma, bias, fear, and shame that continue to be associated with being HIV+, we will still have many becoming infected. The fact that many still living with this disease do not feel comfortable sharing with family, friends and loved ones is not acceptable. The fact that many will not share in their churches, employment or housing is not acceptable. The fact that many who are living with this disease fear being evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs, denied quality healthcare, rejection from their families, loved ones and friends is not acceptable. The fact that we still have so many that for whatever the reasons are living in fear is a statement about us as a society. If our places of worship are not places were those infected feel comfortable going and sharing, then where?
We, as the general public, can help eliminate many of those fears, biases and shame by becoming better educated. By understanding that HIV is not transmitted through drinking behind others, sharing plates, kissing, hugging or touching someone infected with the virus. It is not spread through the air or by touching someone. We, as a community, can also be of help to those infected by encouraging them to get into care, stay in care, and to take their medications. We can encourage our loved ones to get tested regularly, and support those who test positive. We can educate ourselves and help combat the unawareness shared by those lacking in knowledge. We can encourage our houses of worship to be more vocal in supporting those infected and be places of healing.
When combating HIV, education is key for everyone . . . those infected and those affected. We know that a person living with the disease that is in treatment and on medication is less than 4% likely to pass the disease on to others and 96% likely to pass on the disease if they are not in care. We know that with expanded Medicare in this state we could be treating many more, in a more effective manner. We know that for prevention and education policies that encompass the full range of policies from abstinence, to sex education helps to fully prepare our high school youth to navigate the difficult choices many of them may face and the severe consequences many can face by not knowing. We know that an educated community that gets tested on a regular basis is a healthier one and encouraging testing in the emergency rooms and all regular doctor visits can help in identifying those infected and getting them the proper referrals they need to stay healthy.
Let’s make the coming year one where Every 9 Minutes someone is preventing HIV instead of acquiring it!!