On June 5, 1981, a report was issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in its weekly public health digest that five gay men across LA had been diagnosed with an unusual lung infection known as PCP and two of them had died from it. About a month later, 26 gay men had died. The world was scared of the unknown.
Panic and stigma began to spread throughout our country with the virus soon to be known as HIV/AIDS. Instead of working to help those infected with HIV, our government and many Americans treated it as insignificant because it was being relayed as the “gay plague”. How wrong that statement was. HIV was in fact infecting women, children, people with hemophilia such as young Ryan White, and most commonly- intravenous drug users. HIV/AIDS did not discriminate towards the human race. It did not see color, sexual orientation, or gender. It began to infect everyone as a rapid epidemic. Many physicians and other health care professionals refused to treat people with the disease due to stigma and fear. People suffered immensely and death was quick for most died in the first years of infection. “You were just putting Band-Aids on hemorrhages for a while,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, who would soon become the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It would be years before treatment became effective against the virus.
Thanks to advocates rallying together for change, all HIV treatments are now available to anyone who wants them. In 1996, significant advancements in medications resulted in HIV becoming a chronic disease, and no longer a terminal one.
We’ve come a long way- but we still have far to go. There is still an HIV/AIDS epidemic, but with the years passing it has been treated much like a ghost of the past. Many young people who are infected today admit to little to no knowledge about the disease or how it is transmitted. Stigma is still devastating to those who live with HIV. The judgment of personal choices people make stop them from taking advantage of highly effective pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) medications.
Your body, your choice. But we want to keep you safe. It only takes one experience with an infected person to contract HIV. PrEP protects you from those that choose not to protect themselves or do not know their status. PrEP should be a good thing and yet with a disease that has so much negative judgment attached to it, people are hesitant. It is safe, FREE or low-cost and effective against HIV.
In the past 41 years, over 700,000 people in the US alone have died from HIV. Let’s make an impact on our community with advocacy and education. If you have HIV, Careteam Plus can make sure that you have the support and medical treatment you need regardless of your ability to pay. If you are having unprotected sex with anyone, especially more than one person a year, you should be on PrEP. We can help you make that change today. Last, if you are in a “high risk for HIV infection” group, make sure you are tested regularly and, remember that testing is not prevention. Being tested is so that if you are HIV positive you can start treatment right away. The sooner treatment begins it enhances the longevity and quality of life. We can end this epidemic together. Do your part to stop HIV infection, not just for yourself, but for those you care about and, for the 700,000 who lost their lives due to HIV/AIDS.