Living Well

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Kirsten Darbyshire
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, observed each year on February 7. It is one of 15 HIV/AIDS awareness days established since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, a time when treatment options were few and many people were dying from AIDS-related complications.

While there have been numerous advancements in prevention and care over the past three decades, the need for HIV education, testing and treatment remains vitally important. This is especially true among African Americans.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 38,739 people diagnosed with HIV in 2017. African Americans are disproportionately impacted; more than 43% of those diagnosed with HIV in 2017 identified as black or African American even though only 12% of the US population is black or African American. According to the CDC, in 2014, of an estimated 471,500 African Americans living with HIV, one in six did not know they had HIV.

The focus of this year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on the importance of communities working together to stop HIV. The campaign is also highlighting stopping the stigma that prevents many from seeking help or getting tested.

HIV/AIDS awareness can lead to saving many lives by educating the community on the importance of getting tested and treatment after testing positive for HIV.

What is HIV/AIDS?

Human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV is a virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS if not treated. HIV attacks the body’s immune system which lowers your body’s ability to fight off infections. Unlike other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. Once you have been diagnosed with HIV, you have it for life.

HIV is carried in semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk. HIV can enter the body:

  • During sex with a person living with HIV
  • By sharing needles with an individual living with HIV
  • From a mother living with HIV (A mother who has HIV can infect her child during birth or through breastfeeding)

There are three stages of HIV infection:

  1. Acute HIV Infection
  2. Clinical Latency
  3. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)

AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infections. Individuals with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems which increases their risk of severe illnesses. These severe illnesses, not the virus itself, are what causes death.

Prevention and Treatment

It’s important for everyone to know their status and get tested. If you are living with HIV, you are not alone. People living with HIV and on treatment can achieve a near normal life expectancy. Once you have been diagnosed with HIV, you have it for life. However, with treatment, your virus can become suppressed. For every 100 of the 471,500 African Americans living with HIV in 2014, only 43 were virally suppressed. Viral suppression is when antiretroviral therapy, treatment for HIV, reduces a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. The CDC stated in their December 2018 HIV Treatment as Prevention Technical Fact Sheet, “About 80% of people in HIV care were virally suppressed at their last test. About 2/3 of people in HIV care maintain viral suppression over a year.” The fact sheet provides evidence of HIV treatment and viral suppression preventing the sexual transmission of HIV. This same message is being embraced by many organizations as “U=U, Undetectable equals Untransmissible.”

If you are not living with HIV you can ask your primary care doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP. PrEP is also available as part of the Infectious Disease Center (ID) at University Medical Center. PrEP is a pill that can be taken every day to help lower your chances of acquiring HIV.

University Medical Center’s HIV Outpatient Program (HOP) has been recognized nationally for its multidisciplinary approach and serves as a medical home for people living with HIV. Some of HOP’s services include; primary care, dental care, behavioral health, lab services, medication assistance, health education, and social services. Treatment among people living with HIV and preventing new diagnoses among people without HIV through PrEP, are key strategies to effectively achieving zero new infections.

As we observe the 20th anniversary of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we are reminded of the importance of communities working together to stop HIV. You can do this by getting tested, seeking treatment, promoting prevention, and normalizing conversations about HIV/AIDS.

To make an appointment with the ID Center/HOP please call (504) 702-4344.

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