|World AIDS Day 2014 Poster from CDC.gov|
While in high school, I learned that one of my most honored relatives was HIV positive, and I instantly changed my path to learn everything about the unknown. They didn't stress how scary this virus can be, and usually is, while I was young. It was a monster from the 80s that wasn't scary anymore, which is entirely inaccurate (well, not the 80s part). All of the sudden, someone I knew had been infected, and by the time I went to college, that number had exploded.
I ran the free HIV testing clinic in college, and advocated for a better educated, a more empowered sexually active youth culture. I volunteered and then later worked for Planned Parenthood, and supported every client without judgement. As a health educator, I taught college freshman, whom had never had any exposure to sex ed, about the basics: everything from basic anatomy, dispelling menstruation myth, STIs, etc. I even researched HIV for my graduate thesis. There was a time in my life where I felt like I was talking about HIV every day. But people still weren't concerned.
New statistics show that only 4 out of 10 people in the US who are infected in HIV in 2011 were receiving HIV-specific medical care (meaning regular monitoring, access to medication, viral suppression, etc.). Approximately 3 in 10 people with HIV in the US had achieved viral suppression, which is a critical factor in continuing to live and thrive with the infection. According to the CDC, 76% of people who receive HIV medical care achieve viral suppression. That means 46% (yes, almost half) of people with HIV in the US either don't have access to adequate care, don't know about it, don't know that they have HIV, or are refusing care. I shouldn't have to point out that these are only statistics for the US, and access to care on a global scale is much worse.
Now that I've made my way back into my field (after my 3 year stint with NASA), I find myself getting really frustrated and feeling really helpless about HIV. It wasn't until this year that I realized how distanced I've become. Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed, because this is such an important topic for me.
So, I'm going to strive to reinvent my commitment to advocating for patients, for access to care, for continued funding, and for access to real education. We need to be frank about this subject, because it's not going away anytime soon. As far as I'm concerned, we probably wont find a cure within the next 10 years (as some people are claiming), and even if we do, the focus needs to shift to continuing to support those who are infected, and those who are at risk of becoming infected.
Even though World AIDS Day is coming to an end for this year, make it a point to start talking about HIV, and get empowered to get tested regularly. Use the resources that are available in your community, and learn how you can protect yourself. AIDS is everywhere, and we need to stop pretending that it's a thing of the past.