Monday, September 14, 2015

Fear, Shame and Stigma Cripple Us

Thanks to medicines and medical progress, HIV can be a manageable, chronic disease. Most infected people can live a normal, relatively healthy life as long as they are diagnosed early enough and take their medication as prescribed. Today’s antiretroviral drugs suppress the viral load – (they lower the amount of HIV virus circulating in the bloodstream) – to the extent that someone in appropriate and regular care who is taking medicines as prescribed is healthier and has almost no risk of infecting someone else. That’s a game-changer for all of the folks dating or in relationship with anyone with HIV, and all those who have spent so long afraid. Treatment, is in some important ways, prevention!

But, nationally, only about a third of HIV-positive people reach the point of being and staying virally suppressed. That’s because 18-20% of people with HIV have not tested and do not know they are HIV positive. Additionally, too few people have easy access to appropriate care and medicines
and even amongst those who begin care too many are not able to stay in care, and thus are not able to reach or sustain viral suppression. 

This HIV Cascade or cycle is worst in environments high in poverty, high in stigma/shame, and with significant racial disparities in health education and access. The conversations Center Staff and I are having with too many in the LGBT community are filled with crippling fear, shame and stigma - fear that prevents regular HIV testing, stealing the chance for early detection and treatment.

But San Diego can change all that. People living with HIV/AIDS can receive medicines, care, respect and fair treatment. They have an illness that can be treated and doesn’t need to be transmitted. 

We can help those not testing regularly to get tested. Early detection of HIV gives everyone their greatest chance at living a healthy, normal, long life. Silence, fear and stigma limit our chances for that full, healthy life. We can help all those without easy access to care, to get into appropriate HIV care and to be able to stay in care and achieve viral suppression.

San Diego has incredible care available for HIV – but that care cannot be effective if we do not focus on reducing fear and stigma, on regular testing for the untested and on getting/keeping all people in care. Education and information can make a huge difference. Fear, shame and stigma cripple us.

Together we can reduce new cases of HIV in San Diego to zero. Together we can  #bethegeneration

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