As we close another year, let’s reflect on a few things in 2019. Promises were made and some important ideas emerged along with funding, which is always exciting and impactful.
U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable) means that when HIV is no longer detectable in our bodies we CANNOT transmit it to an intimate (sexual) partner. Achieving an undetectable viral load or viral suppression with medication is celebratory. It’s not only the new mantra from years of scientific research but also the most important message to empower people living with HIV and inform those who do not. This campaign from www.preventionaccess.org started in 2016 and gained traction statewide this year when the Louisiana Department of Health officially signed on to a consensus statement. So, keep up the momentum and tell others “U=U, Y’all”.
In a State of the Union speech, the current administration brought us a commitment to eliminating HIV transmission by 2030 by reducing new infections. It was a good start to help keep the epidemic at the forefront of the minds of most Americans. It was also a nice kickstarter of funding for planning and some solutions that address HIV on local and state levels. What little the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America offers in substance, the influx of new dollars could form a solid base to develop new policy and initiatives.
Miguel, nicknamed the Lisbon Patient, made international headlines last year as the oldest known person living with the virus. In 2019, Miguel turned 100, after being diagnosed in 2004. Sadly, Miguel passed away recently but inspires us that PLWH can live and thrive for many years with proper and effective treatment. Estimates show that almost 50% of people living with HIV are over the age of 50 or will soon reach that age. Thankfully, HIV is a chronic manageable condition and we’re living proof. Take some time to think about that.
Many still see HIV as a “gay disease”. It is not. HIV has affected women since the early days of AIDS. They were dying in this epidemic. They unknowingly gave birth to children with HIV. They were caretakers of many in the beginning. Lastly, they are the forgotten ones in many spaces for HIV. We need more resources that focus on the needs of women and the will to talk honestly with women about their risks. Women are left out of research for treatment and prevention.
This is probably news as you read this. This May, the Louisiana Department of Health required labs to report all test results for HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis, including negative and non-reactive results. This reporting is name-based meaning that anytime one gets screened for any of those three diseases, the state collects the name of the person tested whether the result is positive [already required] or negative [new] from the lab that performs the test. So, I hope you’re being informed of this in your annual health care check ups, which I hope you’re doing too.
HIV stigma continues to be a challenge in efforts to curb misconceptions about the realities of this disease. Some still fear it as the worst thing possible. People living with HIV have internalized over thirty years of being persecuted, prosecuted, and ostracized by family and others. Even with new tools we have to treat and prevent it, stigma and bias remain strong.
In Louisiana, exposure to HIV is a crime, including failure to disclose one’s HIV status to a sexual partner, as a felony. Louisiana Revised Statutes [R. S. 14.43.5] needs to be repealed or modernized to reflect current science. Such statutes, as in thirty plus other states, do nothing to promote public health and may actually deter testing for those who do not know they are living with HIV.
In closing, cheers to your 2020 vision of HIV becoming clearer. Have a great new year with mega hugz! Elections matter.