Each month on the 2nd Thursday at 11:00 am a group of misc. service providers from around the state of Arkansas, advocates from the infected/affected community and guests meets via teleconference. There are different topics for discussion based on current events, however after introductions are made the normal protocol is to discuss “old business”. Because it is deemed as one of the most important and pressing issues, the disparity concerning how many HIV positive clients are not receiving medical care for the diagnosis is addressed. These are individuals who have tested positive but for whatever reason have not had lab blood tests (ie: viral load, CD-4 counts) in the last year done, nor are they currently seeing a doctor for the condition.
There are some different opinions on how many clients this pertains to, however in most conversations including providers who work with the numbers…the statistics are pretty alarming. In some cases stat's stating that up to 2/3 of HIV positive individuals in the state of Arkansas are NOT in care. That would indicate that only 1/3 of known HIV positive people are taking the medications that will help keep them from developing AIDS. It also means that they (the 2/3 not “in care”) are also much more contagious to anyone they may engage in “risky behavior” with.
Because those people with HIV who are responding to their anti-HIV medications have reduced HIV viral load amounts (the desired effect being what's called a “non detectable” viral load amount ie:under 50 copies per millimeter of blood etc). In some cases it may be even less ie <20 copies or less being deemed “undetectable”. It recently has been determined that those who have an undetectable viral amount in their blood are much less likely to transmit HIV if an exposure takes place. Because of this many who advocate for HIV/AIDS related causes are recognizing treatment (medications) as a form of effective prevention of HIV infection.
Each month those of us on the teleconference discuss the many reasons as to why so many here in Arkansas (and all across the south) choose to remain “out of care”. Also those concerned talk about ideas and suggestions to address the on-going crisis. Every year in our state approximately another 500 people will test positive for HIV. We need to ask ourselves…how many less would that number be if 95% or better of positives were “in care” and having an “undetectable” viral load result???? One thing for certain we DO know is it would mean less, and probably much less spreading of this awful disease.
The stigma associated with having HIV is a major factor in my opinion for so many choosing to not seek care and treatment. Not wanting family or friends to find out their status plays a major role as well. Also because this is an illness where symptoms may not show right away, its easy to ignore the reality of an “unrealistic situation”. If you or someone you care about has HIV..please consider seeking medical attention and medications, or recommending it. Lets all try and see if we can't see that infection rate start to go down. Anyone who is concerned about HIV related issues is encouraged to join in on the teleconference call….1-866-217-3840 is the toll free number and the pass code is 0024764……Thanks……Steve May