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State health officials, politicians, activists and care providers on the frontline of the HIV epidemic are most optimistic than they have been in 36 years. There is a light at the end of the tunnel — with biomedical interventions the transmission of HIV could end within a decade.
That is a huge change in the landscape of HIV, but that light could be snuffed out for years, perhaps decades, without proactive involvement from this community. This is as much an all hands on deck scenario as marriage equality was.
Here’s what we know and here’s what you can do to help end the epidemic:
— Regular testing (at least annually, but preferably quarterly) is the key to unlocking the end of HIV in Michigan.
— A person living with HIV who is taking their medications and undetectable cannot sexually transmit their infection
— A person who is HIV-negative can take a pill once a day to prevent sexually acquiring the virus. It’s 99 percent effective.
— A person who is HIV-negative, but uses injection drugs, can take a once a day pill to prevent acquiring HIV through needle sharing. It’s 70 percent effective.
— Needle exchanges work in reducing blood borne infections and do not increase intravenous drug use.
— Stigma, whether over sexuality, gender identity or HIV status, continues to be a major obstacle to testing, treatment and prevention.
— Increased access to medical care through the Affordable Care Act is saving lives, preventing HIV transmissions and improving the quality of life for our entire community.
What you can do right now to help end the epidemic:
— Get tested for HIV. Seriously, know your status.
— If you test HIV-positive, get into medical care and begin medications immediately. It will improve your health outcomes and as a bonus, prevent you from transmitting the virus to anyone else.
— If you test HIV-negative, get on PrEP. You owe to yourself and the community to do your part to prevent HIV transmission.
— Stop using stigmatizing and shaming language which creates obstacles. That includes ending the references in apps to being clean when discussing HIV and ending gender expression shaming.
— Call your lawmakers. We have to save the Affordable Care Act, and we need to protect the Medicaid expansion. Without those two health insurance programs, getting to no new infections will be impossible to reach.
— Call your state lawmakers and tell them to modernize MIchigan’s HIV disclosure law to reflect actual criminal intent and risk of harm, rather than continue to criminalize people because of a virus.
— Support those living with the virus. Support those at risk for the virus. Encourage each other to be adherent to prevention choices that we are making for ourselves. HIV prevention is everyone’s responsibility.
Ending the epidemic is our shared responsibility. The light at the end of the tunnel can become a bonfire signaling the end of this epidemic, but to build that signal fire, everyone has to do their part. Michigan can, and should, become the leader in stopping HIV. The power is in our hands. The question is: Will we use it?