19Feb 7FebIt’s 2018, and it certainly feels like everyone in the U.S. knows much more about HIV today than we did in, say, 1988. But what many fail to understand is that the importance of getting just one HIV test is at least as important today as it was back then. Here’s why:
- Did you know that HIV testing has not always been a part of standard preventive care? In fact, here in our state of Nebraska, it STILL doesn’t make up the myriad of regular preventive screenings done unless you ask for it or your provider encourages it (read more on a legislative bill attempting to modify that here and here). Many states operated for many years with an “opt-in” stance regarding HIV testing, as opposed to an “opt-out” – meaning that in many places, you would have had to have asked for a test in order to receive one. If you don’t know the last time you were tested for HIV, it may be time to consider whether or not you ever have been. If you have donated blood or completed a physical for the purposes of securing life insurance, chances are, you have been tested for HIV. Outside of that scope, and particularly if you are living in Nebraska – where HIV testing is not considered a part of preventive screenings – you may not have ever been tested.
- It is estimated that 1 in 7 individuals who are living with HIV do not know it. This is particularly important when it comes to the cost of HIV care, as individuals who are diagnosed and prescribed to treatment early are less likely to require hospital stays and are less likely to unknowingly transmit HIV to others through sexual contact or sharing needles. Undiagnosed HIV is costly, not only to the personal health of those living with HIV, but also to medical care facilities and other care centers focused on HIV care needs. The cost of simply having a test performed is very likely free (visit free testing centers like ours or visit with your primary care physician – HIV tests are covered through the Affordable Care Act as preventive screenings).
- There is still a considerable need to reduce the social stigma attached to HIV and testing for HIV. Asking your health care provider to administer an HIV test (or asking them to confirm if you have ever been tested) should not require courage, it should be something we confidently ask in order to maintain our personal agency. The more we talk about being tested, the more normalized the process becomes. Whatever the result, you will find a network of individuals who will support you both during testing day and beyond. Individuals who test positive in the state of Nebraska, learn more about what we can do to help you navigate your diagnosis here.
- While there are populations who are still considered to be at-risk* for HIV, we recommend that anyone who has ever shared a needle or participated in condomless sex be tested for HIV at least once. We have seen cases of HIV in women who likely came into contact with the virus within a monogamous, marital sexual relationship in which a partner had likely come into contact with HIV prior to the marriage but was unaware of their status. While open and honest dialogue is best, it is recommended that you take control of your own health and ask to be tested. *groups disproportionately at-risk for HIV transmission include gay and bisexual men, black men, persons who inject drugs, latinx, and individuals under the age of 30
- New diagnoses in the U.S. remain steady. In the past decade, the community of health providers focused on HIV care have made progress in finally discontinuing the trend of a rising number of new diagnoses each year, but as Hans Rosling once said “steady state doesn’t mean that things are getting better, it’s just that they have stopped getting worse” and this remains truer globally.
- If you believe you may be at-risk, talk with a physician about PrEP, a pill used to reduce the risk of transmission – more information on PrEP can be found on our website here. People living with HIV can also utilize regular treatment as a prevention mechanism to get to undetectable viral status, a measurement in which HIV is considered untransmittable. Read about U=U here.
6DecEarlier this year, a woman entered an emergency room in rural Nebraska because she’d been feeling sick and her health seemed to be declining, as opposed to improving, after taking several days off work. Upon admission to the hospital was her first time hearing the words “you are HIV positive”, and her viral load (copies of the virus in a blood sample) was so high that it was concluded that she had likely been living with HIV for more than a decade without realizing it. I share this story today because it helps to demonstrate the value and impact of the programs offered by the Nebraska AIDS Project. Testing, prevention, and early intervention, in this case, could have detected HIV earlier and improved health outcomes by connecting her to healthcare and treatment immediately upon detection as opposed to waiting for symptoms to decline to a point where hospitalization was necessary. Upon admission into the hospital, a NAP case manager responded immediately to provide assistance in getting the patient into HIV-specialized medical treatment and assisted in finding financial assistance to ensure the woman maintained the home she lived in during her absence from work. Finally, this story demonstrates how important it is for us to maintain a statewide presence that serves all of Nebraska. Coordinated efforts across the state, and reliable networks of providers of medical care, help us ensure that anyone living with HIV is able to access care, support services, and treatment. This year, we set an aggressive goal to raise $100,000 through Giving Tuesday, World AIDS Day, Night of a Thousand Stars, and our year-end charitable giving campaign. As of today, we are at just over $85,000 – we’re asking YOU to help us move into 2018 strong! Will you help us raise $15,000 before December 31st? Donate now! On behalf of the staff, volunteers, and board of directors at the Nebraska AIDS Project, we thank you for your continued support! Sincerely, London Woolman Interim Executive Director of the Nebraska AIDS Project 29NovOn World AIDS Day, this Friday, December 1, we remain committed to remembering and paying respect and tribute to the past, celebrating the present, and moving toward an AIDS-Free generation in our future. As we take time out of our busy holiday schedules, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of World AIDS Day – this public health awareness day was first recognized in December of 1988. Part of our role here at the Nebraska AIDS Project is to advocate on behalf of those living with HIV and to educate the most vulnerable populations on risks and how to mitigate them. In doing so, we serve an important role in recognizing the intersection where the history of HIV and AIDS meets the future. We have come a long way but there is still important work to be done. Our call to action includes 9 achievable items. We hope that you’ll find at least one (or perhaps 9) that speak to you individually and we ask that you join us in our mission toward a future generation that is HIV- and AIDS-free.
- Remember the names of those we’ve lost – remember not only their physical challenges but also the social struggles they endured – truly consider the humanity of every person whose life was cut short due to HIV, particularly during those initial 10 years, when comprehension of the disease was limited and social confusion on the topic created some of the more stigmatizing views that we continue to encounter today.
- Support those who speak about their own lived experience with HIV or AIDS – Many individuals living with HIV are reluctant to talk openly about their lived experience. Many still feel shame in their diagnosis, and some are hesitant to even inform close family members due to fear of their reactions. Imagine what it must feel like to hold on to this information and carry the burden alone. The more we collectively encourage people living with HIV to talk about their own experiences, the more the public view and confusion surrounding HIV softens. Real people serve to both humanize and normalize the topic. If you know someone living with HIV who is willing to talk about their status, refer them to us – we will give them a platform to share their experience, and encourage and support their needs in doing so to the best of our ability. Treatment for people has come a LONG way since the first AIDS diagnosis in 1981 and treatment and preventive options continue to improve. It’s time our social awareness catches up to the great strides we’ve made on a scientific level. Request a speaker or presenter using this online form.
- Recognize populations who are most vulnerable to HIV and educate them or refer them to NAP for education on HIV. Populations most vulnerable today include not only gay men, but bisexual and trans folx. Very specifically, African American and Latinx populations of LGBT identities – who now account for a larger prevalence of new diagnoses each year. The most vulnerable population, which is individuals under the age of 25, need comprehensive sex education and access to information as well as safe spaces to access condoms, health care, and treatment. In order for us to see a world without new diagnoses, younger audiences need to be aware of how to minimize risk of transmission. Request an educational speaker using this online form or call 402-552-9260 ext 105 for the Prevention & Outreach Manager.
- Donate money or raise money to support NAP (or agencies like NAP who serve those living with HIV). It might sound obvious, but agencies like NAP primarily exist because there are large gaps to address – not only within access to healthcare and treatment options, but to socially supportive services such as support groups, or assistance in obtaining and maintaining both jobs and housing. Funding from both federal and state programs AND individuals donors gets harder and harder to maintain as HIV and AIDS moves beyond the headline-grabbing stories of the 1980s and 1990s. Individual donors may either believe that a crisis no longer exists related to HIV, or they may simply see a larger net of causes that need financial support and each donor is put in an unfortunate situation to have to prioritize how they give charitably. Donating money is still fundamental to the cause and we will find a way to put donations to good use. At NAP, our services are life-enhancing on an average day and life-saving on a good one. Donate to NAP or visit our Ways to Give page.
- Educate yourself on the history of HIV and self-reflect on your own role within. If you are white and college-educated, specifically, reflect on your privilege within the context of HIV. POZ Magazine recently published an op-ed asking where all of the activism (and some of the funding) had gone to support HIV and AIDS globally. The same magazine later published an open letter response to the piece, suggesting that when young, white, men stopped dying from AIDS-related illnesses, we removed a large piece of the most outspoken activists from the ongoing efforts. Both sides of this argument are valid and both sides indicate a need to re-activate some of those who were formerly champions of the cause and evolve our efforts to better serve the changing needs of the present and future.
- Vote in 2018 – as federal funding continues to remain flat or decrease over time, we need to seek leaders who prioritize HIV matters – so that treatment and care remain available to those with low or no income, those struggling with mental health or addiction, and those who might be inclined to discontinue treatment or medical care if more barriers were put into place to get it. Register to vote, register to vote by mail (it’s easy to do), and encourage your peers to do the same. We don’t have to share political opinions, but regional actions create global impact.
- Volunteer your time as a testing counselor at NAP – counselors serve as educators and advocates for anyone getting tested. They offer suggestions on how to minimize risk, referrals to treatment or care, provide free condoms, and referrals to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP). Become a volunteer.
- Get tested yourself and talk about that experience to the level at which you are comfortable – this normalizes the experience for others – Nebraska is the last state in the US in which you have to opt-in to receive an HIV test, rather than opting-out. This means that in order to ensure you are tested, you have to ask for the test to be performed. If you’ve donated blood or given blood for the purposes of purchasing life insurance, you have probably opted-in through that process. Regular annual exams with a primary care doctor are trickier – you’ll have to ask that the test be performed. Or better yet, stop by a NAP office – our testing is free and confidential and no insurance is needed. There’s no shame in getting a test and it’s important that those vulnerable populations mentioned above hear this – not just from us, but from people they know and trust – like you. Schedule an appointment at any NAP testing location.
- Reduce the way you consume HIV and AIDS as a form of entertainment. There are hundreds upon thousands of jokes and punchlines in the world – HIV and AIDS has certainly been included on that list. Make an effort to contemplate how HIV and AIDS is modified to entertain in a way that furthers the social stigma felt by those living with HIV. Make a personal commitment to resign from the inclusion of those jokes and call out those who include HIV or AIDS within their personal arsenal of punchlines. We’ve come a long way since 1981, and there are a million ways to lighten a mood that aren’t at the expense of another human.
20NovTis the season for giving! As many of you know, I took over a number of responsibilities as the Interim Executive Director of the Nebraska AIDS Project in June of 2017. During the upcoming month, we'll be asking donors to open their hearts and minds to support this cause through Giving Tuesday, World AIDS Day, Night of a Thousand Stars (our annual fundraising gala) and our year-end campaign. The support that Nebraska AIDS Project gives to people living with HIV throughout the ENTIRE STATE of Nebraska is inspiring. Over the years, NAP has gone from a grassroots organization staffed by volunteers to a scrappy nonprofit with a continual flow of employees and partners who reiterate that the work we do here MATTERS. We continue improve health outcomes in this great state each and every year. We cannot continue these efforts without the support of individual donors like you all. I know that dollars run thin around the holidays and I know that giving opportunities are plentiful and hard to prioritize. I ask you, wholeheartedly, to consider contributing any amount you can to this effort. These efforts are life-enhancing at very least and life-saving at their very best. Donate here: goo.gl/zYV8ZL THANK YOU. London Woolman Interim Executive Director for the Nebraska AIDS Project 23OctNAP Clients can receive help during the following insurance clinic times: Omaha NAP office 11/09/17 – 12:00pm-7:30pm 11/17/17 – 10:30am-4:00pm 12/14/17 – 12:00pm-7:30pm Lincoln NAP office 11/29/17 – 11:30am-6:00pm 12/07/17 – 11:30am-6:00pm Please call 402-552-9260 ext 125 to schedule an appointment for assistance.