by Michael Harney –
As this decade comes to a close, and the anniversary of almost 40 years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is upon us, we cannot be deterred from the work still at hand.
We need to teach the next generations our history, the history of a complicated virus whose genetic mutations keep scientists on their toes as they seek ways to block its further transmission while also making it easier to live with. And thanks to newer treatments, people are living longer and healthier lives: more than half the people with HIV in the United States are now 50 years of age and older.
Still, the younger members of our communities are vulnerable when not provided enough understanding of how to avoid getting this easily preventable viral infection, so as not to become a continuous cycle of new generations with HIV in the decades to come.
We can discuss comprehensive sex education as one tool in the toolbox of prevention, but that is not always an easy subject to cover when the stigma of human bodies outweighs the rationale of how biology works; and almost nobody receives an age-appropriate human anatomy book for a birthday or holiday gift. Maybe this year will be different…
There is a scientific update to know about called U=U which stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable. It is all the talk, and means effectively that a person being treated for HIV, whose blood has fewer than 200 virus copies per milliliter, and who maintains that viral load suppression for more than six months while still taking antiretroviral therapy, will not transmit HIV.
If the criteria of the HIV control measures are met, one does not, in North Carolina, have to disclose his or her HIV positive status to a sexual partner. Take a look at the literature for yourself, and discuss the matter further with your healthcare provider. Visit www.cdc.gov to read more about it., and www.projectaccess.org to learn about the Partners II clinical trial results that along with revised North Carolina HIV Control Measures, have validated U=U.
Yet the science is not enough if that knowledge is not being transmitted to the next generations. There are options in the HIV prevention toolbox that offer additional barriers to the transmission of HIV. Ever heard of PrEP? It stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis—and means taking a pill once a day during a time in life when the risk of acquiring HIV might be heightened due to social connections we make. No discrimination or stigma. Let’s be real … we make social connections that may include a variety of sexual expressions, and substances used. Not gonna talk real? Nowadays? Up to you.
There is so much to know, but how do the details ever get to the many people who need to know them? Are you willing to share this conversation over the holidays as we near the end of this decade? If so, and you need more information, please be in contact with me, The Rubberman at the local office of the WNC AIDS Project. I’ll be glad to help you gather the information and resources to help you become the educator to the community you serve.
Lastly, on December 1st, known across the planet as World AIDS Day, remember those who have passed from HIV and AIDS-related causes. The theme this year is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community,” reflecting the need to achieve the national and worldwide goal to “End the Epidemic by 2030”—by redoubling our efforts here at home. We can look forward to a better day when this is all archived in the library and researchers look back to get an understanding of something we lived through for decades. It is not over yet, but getting there. Be well.
Michael Harney is a prevention educator with WNCAP.