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Receiving an HIV diagnosis is unquestionably life-altering, and not always only because of the direct effects of the virus itself. Cara Mitrano is an undergraduate student at Wayne State University and was recently selected by sexual health rights organization Advocates for Youth to be an ambassador for National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. She said that often, HIV affects peoples’ lives especially because of the negative reputation surrounding the virus. As part of her duties as an ambassador, she has collaborated with a variety of local advocacy organizations to host an April 10 event at The Planned Parenthood Detroit Health Center dedicated to bringing more awareness about HIV to the area.
“A lot of people, people who are not living with HIV, don’t understand the ways that we have to treat and manage the virus now,” she said. “They’re afraid of catching it, essentially, so there’s a lot of stigma around people who are living with HIV and they aren’t updated on the science.”
This type of misinformation, she said, can especially be damaging to youth, who right now comprise the highest segment of new diagnoses, particularly among black men who have sex with men. In fact, a 2014 study titled “The U.S. People Living With HIV Stigma Index: Michigan” found that stigma surrounding the virus has lead 80 percent of those diagnosed within the Metro Detroit area to feel negative feelings of self-blame and guilt about their positive status, 73 percent to experience various types of social discrimination and 20 percent to experience some kind of institutional discrimination — among other consequences.
Mitrano said that a common misconception she’d like to dispel regards the effectiveness of HIV medication.
“U equals U, so, undetectable is untransmittable,” she said. “If someone has a maintained undetectable viral load and they continue to take their antiretroviral medication they cannot transmit the virus to someone else and I think that’s something most people don’t know.”
At the event, Mitrano said attendees will be able to learn about this fact and more.
“There will be vendor tables from local agencies including Unified, WC Safe, several other LGBTQ and/or youth and/or HIV-related agencies. So, hopefully, people will be able to find whatever resources they need no matter how they identify and whether they’re currently living HIV or not,” she said. “And there will also be a meal provided, completely free for all attendees, and a raffle with Visa gift cards as well.”
Mitrano added that HIV testing services will also be provided, along with resources and information containing next steps for those who might receive a positive diagnosis.
“Because we wouldn’t want to develop a scenario where there is testing available but if then someone gets a positive diagnosis, where do they go from there? We have to have the full continuum of care if we’re going to offer that service,” she said.
Mitrano said that any Early Intervention Specialists and linkage to care coordinators who are intersted in attending and aiding with the event’s services should reach out to her personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, when asked if she had any advice for those who suspect that they already have HIV, Mitrano stressed the importance of finding a safe health care environment, something that she hopes this event can help people discover.
“So, if you’re going to talk to a doctor, make sure that you know your doctor is going to be a safe person to talk to, that they are educated on the subject. And [know] that there are a lot of resources here in the Metro Detroit area, whether you have the ability to pay or not, there are organizations out there to support you,” she said. “And it can be scary, I haven’t lived through that myself, but navigating that situation can be really complicated. My advice would be to reach out to organizations that specifically do HIV work and talk to their specialists so that way you can get connected to care or connected to resources.”
TAGLINE To find out more information about the event and the various organizations in attendance, reach out to email@example.com. The event is on Wednesday, April 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Planned Parenthood Detroit Center, located at 4229 Cass Ave in Detroit.