World AIDS Day- A Challenge

Yesterday, Melissa sent me a link to this story, saying that this probably wasn’t news to me as I work for an HIV/AIDS services organization, but that I might want to write about it. I decided to save the post for today, as it is World AIDS Day (although as we say at my agency, “Every day is World AIDS Day.”). And yes, reading this isn’t particularly surprising to me (although I was blown away by the discrimination statistics), but the numbers are still shocking:
Medical progress now ensures that HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, but only for those who can access good medical care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost three out of four Americans with HIV are not receiving enough medicine or regular health care “to stay healthy or prevent themselves from transmitting the virus to others.” Out of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV, 850,000 aren’t receiving regular treatment to keep the virus at a low enough level to prevent transmission or hurt their own health and 240,000 Americans don’t even know they’re infected with HIV.
Indeed, as the first sentence states, HIV is now a very manageable medical condition if you can access care. Access to a knowledgeable medical provider is very important, but without access to medications, the phrase “HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence” doesn’t hold much water. With so many people lacking insurance that covers prescriptions, and with so many states creating ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) waiting lists, access to the medication needed to combat HIV infection is a very real problem. For people not living in the USA, access to medications may be impossible. Many of the problems that made HIV so difficult to combat early in the epidemic are still very present today, such as lack of education and stigma.

Recently, I was talking with a co-worker and he was mentioning to me a talk he had recently with a rather prominent HIV activist. In this discussion, he was shocked to hear that this person was very misinformed about a risk behavior that could lead to possible HIV infection. Hearing this was very surprising to me as well, and reminded me that even those of us who are touched by HIV on a daily basis always have something new to learn. I bring this up not to waggle a shaming finger at this person, or anyone who may lack certain knowledge about the disease, but to illustrate that all of us should be educating ourselves.

So. Here is my challenge to you, dear reader, on World AIDS Day.

First, if you are able to, get tested. Know your status.

Second, educate yourself about HIV and try to spread at least one fact about HIV to people you know. Here is my fact for you.
When discussing how HIV is working inside someone, the most common terms you will hear are “CD4 count (or t-cells) and “viral load.” Basically, CD4 cells help your body fight off disease, and viral load refers to HIV virus cells. Doctors measure the number of these cells in a cubic millimeter of blood (a small drop). So, the goal is a high CD4 count and a low viral load. Sometimes you will hear people say they are “undetectable.” This means their viral load is so low, the HIV cells cannot be detected in that drop of blood.

However, this does not mean the person is cured of HIV, or that the HIV cells are gone.

And most importantly, even with an undetectable viral load, it is still possible to infect someone else with HIV. Although it is more difficult to contract HIV from someone with an undetectable viral load, it is still possible. This is why we encourage people to always practice safer sex.
Until there is a cure, knowing your status, educating yourself, and eliminating stigma are the best ways to fight HIV/AIDS.

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