By: Al Ballesteros
December 1 is World AIDS Day. This day is globally recognized as a day in the year that the world community calls attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, its continuing spread, spotlights populations affected and calls attention to what’s needed to stop the epidemic and improve the lives of those living with the disease. This is also a day of remembering those who have passed away from AIDS. Many of us have lost family, friends and partners and this can be a difficult time as we reflect back and remember those who were taken from this disease.
What is true today is WE CAN END THIS EPIDEMIC. I believe our community has it in our control and power to stop this epidemic right now. We have to do this together.
Those who are at-risk and not infected with HIV have the access and tools available to them to STAY HIV NEGATIVE. There are many organizations available to help HIV negative individuals STAY HIV NEGATIVE. We know that HIV is transmitted through sexual activity (primarily) and/or needle sharing when a person becomes exposed to the virus through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. We know that USING CONDOMS CORRECTLY prevents transmission. We also have PrEP which is Pre Exposure Prophylaxis treatment to bio-medically prevent infection. When taken correctly this medication can prevent one from becoming infected with the virus in the event that condoms or other prevention methods fail or are not used consistently or correctly. ACCESS to PrEP IS NOT A PROBLEM in Los Angeles because there are sources to pay for the treatment for those without insurance or who can’t afford to pay. There is also free or low cost ACCESS to PrEP for persons who may not be documented taxpayers/citizens. So ACCESS is there. Please reach out and find assistance.
IF YOU MIGHT BE HIV POSITIVE and NOT IN CARE. There are now very effective treatments which work and are keeping people healthy. One can live a “normal” lifespan and lifestyle if they get into medical care. Every year treatments get better. Present times are very different to live with HIV then when the first World AIDS Day was held in 1988. Back then there was nothing available to the sick and those at risk and all people had was a thirst for information. People wanted to know how to protect themselves and what treatments could provide a chance to live through this epidemic. Medical treatments work and there are health care services available for those without insurance, those who are poor and those who are not documented citizens. Please take care of your health and get into care and stay in care if you’re living with HIV disease.
With all we know today and all the available resources for health information and health care, I often ponder why are more than 1,500 persons still getting infected in Los Angeles County each year? Why do nearly 40,000 persons become infected in the United States each year? The reasons are very complex but some facts are true.
MEDICAL CARE is EFFECTIVE PREVENTION: We must continue to help our friends and family infected with this disease to seek medical treatment and stay in care. Not only is treatment important to the infected person, effective medical care will slow down the epidemic. A person who is “undetectable” with respect to their viral levels are not believed to be “as able to” transmit the virus to others. STIGMA and FEAR drive this epidemic. Our community must reduce stigma, homophobia, transphobia and decriminalize laws against people living with HIV or against LGBT people. Don’t let fear keep you our your friends from finding help.
POVERTY is a DRIVER of POOR HEALTH and HIV: Poverty is perhaps one of the single most determining drivers of the spread of infection, related diseases and poor health outcomes. When folks are worried about a roof over their head, working to pay bills or put food on the table, often times their health takes a back seat. We have to overcome this together and help one another to find health resources even during times of struggle.
YOUTH and YOUNG PEOPLE: Please get involved in your health and well-being. Study health and if needed, find people to help you empower yourself to become comfortable asking questions about your health and HIV/AIDS. There are people in organizations that can help. We know for sure that younger people face a host of problems of which HIV is only one. But our youth have to ask themselves, Why add this disease to your problem list when you can avoid it? Look, the world will never end the HIV epidemic unless young people greatly reduce their infection rates. And only they themselves can do that. There are people and organizations that are here to help.
Let’s all continue to advocate for programs and information that will bring HIV to levels close to zero. This should be our goal and challenge to our community. An AIDS Free Generation will allow our LGBT community to become stronger, more empowered and healthier and more prosperous in the future. Let us get there together.