As we approach New Year’s 2022, I know I am wondering, where did the time go? 2030 will be here before we know it, and at that time, we may see the HIV epidemic come to an end! With the innovations in treatment and prevention, there is now an easily implemented 4-point plan to end HIV together!
We looked at the first two steps last week, and I’ll share the final two points in this post.
You will recall, Step 1: Diagnose, referred to a “no wrong door” approach to getting everyone 15-65 tested for HIV. A major barrier to this step is stigma, or the negative and shameful mindset still surrounding HIV that prevents people from knowing their status.
Step 2: Treat, refers to getting those who are HIV+ linked and retained in care so their viral load is undetectable. Undetectable means they cannot transmit HIV to another person.
Step 3: Prevent. There is medication for those who are HIV- that prevents them from becoming HIV+, even if they were exposed to the virus. It’s called PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Those who are at high risk for HIV, including those who have an HIV+ partner, can protect themselves with PrEP, plus 100% consistent and correct condom use. They can prevent contracting the virus while their partner prevents transmission with an undetectable viral load.
Education for the general public, youth, and healthcare providers is also a part of Prevention efforts. Integrating HIV education in substance abuse, mental health, primary care, and well-women care can empower at-risk populations.
Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) are also a way to prevent new transmissions. SSPs are an entry point for services and those who utilize them not only are part of ending HIV, they are more likely to enter drug treatment and stop using drugs altogether.
Step 4: Respond. North Dakota has taken steps to integrate the systems that respond to potential outbreaks and link those infected to care as soon as possible. Local agencies like public health and Ryan White programs collaborate in order to address ND’s other major challenge, rural geography, especially in the western half of the state.
There is no cure for HIV. In the acute phase, an infected person may experience flu-like symptoms as their only indication of exposure. But who thinks to themselves, “Uh-oh, this could be HIV” when they experience body aches and sore throat this time of year?
This is why widespread screening and public education campaigns about preventing and treating HIV, services Connect Medical is proud to be offering in our community, are critical to ending HIV in our lifetime.