We have much to celebrate and improve this World AIDS Day

December 3, 2021 Providence Health Team

[4 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • December 1 is World’s AIDS Day – a day that gives us an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come and look toward an even healthier and safer future.

  • Despite advances in HIV therapies, HIV still poses a serious public health risk.

  • There are many effective preventive measures you can take to lower your risk of HIV.

  • Use your voice to raise awareness about HIV.

Every year on December 1, people around the world come together in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It’s a moment to honor loved ones lost to AIDS-related illness; to show support for those living with HIV; and to celebrate how far we’ve come in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This World AIDS Day, we encourage you – no matter your risk – to join the movement.

The first step is learning what’s happening with HIV in our country and what you can do to reduce your risk or raise awareness of HIV and AIDS-related illnesses.

Ending the HIV epidemic

Forty years ago, we saw the first five cases that would later become known as AIDS. Today, we have come very far since those early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We have a better understanding of what causes HIV and AIDS and how it’s transmitted. Best of all, we have effective therapies that can help prevent and manage HIV, ultimately slowing the progression to AIDS-related illnesses.

Here’s a quick primer about HIV and AIDS:

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) affects the body’s ability to fight infections. It can cause AIDS if not treated.
  • HIV is transmitted through blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluids), vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast/chest milk.
  • AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the most severe stage of HIV.
  • People with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems and can become severely ill from infections.
  • Antiretroviral therapies (ART) can help control the virus and even reduce the amount of HIV in the blood.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) is a medicine that can help reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex.

ART and PREP are very exciting developments and represent how far we have come from the fear and uncertainty that plagued much of our nation in the 1980s. Now, with the support and backing from the U.S. government, scientists, healthcare providers and researchers can continue their work to cure HIV and AIDS and eliminate new cases of the disease.

HIV: Still a serious public health risk

With this good news, it can be hard to believe that HIV and AIDS are still a serious health risk. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that:

  • More than 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV.
  • An estimated 38,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV every year.
  • Many Americans aren’t aware they have HIV.

Closing the gap in HIV care

Efforts are underway in communities around the country to help reduce the number of new HIV infections by 90% by 2030. This would prevent at least 250,000 individuals from getting HIV.

But first, barriers that keep individuals from the education and care they need to manage or prevent HIV infections must be addressed. Those barriers include:

  • Prevention programs aren’t tailored to at-risk individuals. Information is most powerful when it’s tailored to someone’s beliefs and lifestyle – and when it’s presented in a non-judgmental manner. Prevention programs targeted to women, the BIPOC community, transgender individuals and people who use drugs could go a long way in supporting populations at higher risk of getting HIV.
  • Geography impacts available care. Rural communities don’t always have access to the education and care they need to manage or prevent HIV. Stigma, lack of confidentiality, transportation, lack of awareness and lack of providers in rural towns can keep individuals from the HIV care and prevention they need.
  • Not all groups have equal access to care. Black men who have sex with men (BMSM) are at a higher risk of getting HIV and not seeking treatment. This is a result of many factors, including access to care, cultural stigma around sexuality and systemic racism in healthcare. Black women are also at a higher risk of getting HIV. (Black individuals, in general, are at a higher risk all together of HIV. They make up 42% of all new HIV cases.)

Simple and effective ways to prevent HIV

Education and prevention can go a long way in keeping everyone healthy – even as we work to ensure everyone has access to the support they need. The first step is understanding your risk of getting HIV. The CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool is a great place to start. The online, confidential site gives you tailored information about your risk and steps you can take to lower that risk. That may include:

  • Use condoms during sex
  • Talk to your partner about HIV
  • Get tested regularly
  • Never share needles
  • Take medicines to prevent HIV
  • Take medicine to treat HIV
  • Have low-risk sex (such as oral sex)
  • Only have sex with partners with the same HIV status
  • Don’t have sex

Use your voice to spread awareness about HIV risk

There are many organizations working to reduce the rate of new HIV cases and get everyone the care they need. There are also ways you can help raise awareness and remove the stigma around HIV and AIDS-related illnesses. Here’s how:

  • Encourage people you care about to get tested. The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. You will need to be tested more often if you are at higher risk.

  • Discuss how to prevent HIV and AIDS. Aside from testing, there are other ways to help those you know who may be at risk for HIV. Urge them to:

o   Know a partner’s HIV status

o   Choose sexual behaviors that are less risky

o   Use condoms

  • Offer positive examples. Use resources that show how people who are living with HIV overcome barriers so they can live well with HIV.
  • Join with organizations to raise awareness. Support community efforts to build awareness about testing, prevention and maintaining care among populations that are affected by HIV.

No matter your risk, we can all work together to prevent HIV infection.

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Find a doctor

Our doctors at Providence can help better understand your risk of HIV. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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