Zero infections and zero stigma. United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) partner agency AIDS Alabama has the resources to fulfill its mission, but needs help to tackle the second half of that vision statement.
One of the ways UWCA agency partners are helping eliminate the stigma is by educating the community and observing days such as National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NGMHAAD) on September 27th. Learn from CEO of AIDS Alabama Kathie Hiers how to stop misinformation about AIDS from preventing treatment.
“People should not be demonized because they have a disease,” said Kathie Hiers. “People should not be judgmental about it either.”
- Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U). People in care with a suppressed viral load (a very low amount of the virus in their blood) can no longer transmit HIV sexually.
- With proper medical care, HIV-positive people can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.
- AIDS Alabama offers free, confidential and anonymous rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing with no appointment necessary.
Kathie draws a parallel with those who have high blood pressure and take high-blood-pressure medications to save their heart. When people are diagnosed with HIV, they take HIV meds to save their immune system.
“It’s a shame that we can’t normalize HIV, just as other diseases have been normalized, because the treatment these days is so good,” said Kathie.
However, Kathie finds it hard to get folks to come in for treatment — partly due to the lack of correct public knowledge on the subject.
“We have to move it from the moral arena to the medical arena…We have the tools to end it. That’s what’s so exciting and frustrating,” said Kathie.
In addition to the recent discovery of U=U, several encouraging developments are emerging in the response to HIV and AIDS.
Long-lasting agents, for example, will soon be available. These are shots or oral medication that last from one to six months. Hopefully, treatment will get to the point where a person may only need to receive a shot once or twice a year.
“That’s going to be a big game-changer, too, especially for populations that struggle with taking a pill every day,” said Kathie. “Whatever the issue is — whether it’s because of stigma, homelessness or mental health issues — that’s going to help.”
Another positive movement in policy is a change to an Alabama state law. Before, the law contained outdated language preventing accurate sexual health education in schools about HIV/AIDS.
“We came up with the idea about five years ago of rewriting (the law) to bring it up to date with all this exciting science that’s out there now,” said Kathie. “It took us six years, and we just got it passed. So, you will have a new law in Alabama that doesn’t have that stigmatizing language, and it has the up-to-date science.”
Learn more about the work AIDS Alabama does statewide to help people with HIV/AIDS live healthy, independent lives through their website and access resources to help prevent the spread of HIV.