By: Emily Page, Guest Blogger
Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day takes place every year on December 1st as an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for those people living with HIV, and remember those who have died from and AIDS-related illness.
While recent advancements in HIV/AIDS treatment has changed and HIV diagnosis from a life-sentence to a more manageable disease, and programs like needle exchanges and free condom distribution has stemmed the tide of new infections in the United States, the crisis has not averted at home or abroad.
In 2015, an estimated 36.7 million people around the world were living with HIV, including 1.8 million children generally infected from their mothers through pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Approximately two-thirds of all new HIV infections occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa where, in 2015, an estimated 25.6 million people were living with HIV.
In the National Capital Area HIV/AIDS remains an epidemic with 1.9 percent of the population, some 13,000 individuals, living with HIV, today, according to the D.C. Health Department. While the rate of new HIV cases in DC declined some 74% between 2007 and 2016, still almost 350 new cases were reported last year – impacting not just the infected individuals, but their families and communities as well.
The LSS/NCA Youth Haven program helps youth and adults affected by HIV/AIDS, by strengthening their self-esteem and providing them the tools they need to manage their condition effectively. This year, more than 100 individuals affected by HIV/AIDS were served through the Youth Haven program, and LSS/NCA is expanding the program to support youth affected by other potentially stigmatizing events and conditions, such as addiction.
We are called to help
At LSS/NCA our mission is to serve, regardless of faith, creed, condition or diagnosis. HIV/AIDS can be a scary condition, especially for those who remember the early days of the AIDS crisis and were influenced by the rampant misinformation about how the disease and how it could be spread. Today, AIDS is not a death sentence, but it is a disease that requires vigilant treatment.
If you find yourself in a position to offer help and support for someone afflicted by HIV/AIDS, remember the words of Jesus as spoken in Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
What if a friend has been diagnosed with HIV?
More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV, perhaps even a friend or acquaintance. There are many ways to support someone living with HIV.
- If they’ve entrusted you with their private health information, thank them for trusting you.
- Ask how you can help. Or, depending on how well you know the person, make specific offers of support to run errands, pick up prescriptions, or bring by food. Ask whether they need help – as an ally or an advocate – with a particular challenge.
- Reassure them. Let them know that their HIV status does not affect your relationship, and that you will keep their information private.
- Educate yourself. Avoid stereotypes or generalizations. Don’t make assumptions.
- But remember that your friend may not always want to talk about the diagnosis. Remind him or her that you see them as a whole person. Reassure them that HIV is a manageable health condition.
- Be the support they seek. Remember that this person has come to you for support. If your friend has come to you in confidence and you need support, seek out the help of a therapist. LSS/NCA also has licensed staff members and counselors who can offer more personal services.
- Encourage treatment. This can be a scary first step for some people. Offer to help them find a service location or go with them to their first few appointments.
- Support medical adherence. The medication routine is extremely important for people on antiretroviral drugs. Ask how you can help them stay healthy.
Resources for Further Learning
Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSS/NCA) has compiled a list of resources for families affected by HIV/AIDS in the DC area.
If you have friends or family who are not in the national region and need support, here are nationwide resources.
- The Health Resources and Services Administration maintains a list of HIV/AIDS hotlines for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico: https://hab.hrsa.gov/get-care/state-hivaids-hotlines
- Ryan White HIV/AIDS Medical Care Providers can give people living with HIV access to the care they need when they do not have sufficient health insurance or are in need of financial assistance. https://findhivcare.hrsa.gov/index.html
- This database can help locate HIV testing centers, mental health and family planning services, medical centers participating in the Ryan White program, housing assistance, and substance abuse treatment facilities. https://locator.aids.gov/
Helping at Home
- Make a donation. LSS/NCA has more than two decades of experience, offering a safe haven for children and families affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. Through the Youth Haven program, LSS/NCA walks with families to help raise young people who are healthy, connected, and ready to succeed. As the holidays approach, consider giving a donation in someone’s honor, or ask for donations in lieu of gifts.
- Give a gift. LSS/NCA will ensure that your gift is designated to the most critical needs of the Youth Haven families or refugee families.
- Your time and unique talents can be the most valuable gift in the world.
- Educate yourself. Take time to learn about HIV and be armed with facts when you hear inaccuracies or rumors.
Research and treatment has progressed to the point that within the United States, if someone gets and follows a treatment plan, an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence. However, this is not yet the case in developing nations.
- The Gov website outlines the various ways the Federal Government supports HIV/AIDS. Many of these activities require annual appropriations from Congress – and some are being considered for funding reductions. Contact your local Congressional Representative and Senators to express support for these activities and thank them for their support in the past.
- The President and CEO of the Global Leadership Coalition summarized in a policy brief some of the history of foreign aid and why it matters.
- Make a donation to an organization like the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, which helps people adopt healthy life choices, empowers young women to protect themselves, educates mothers to protect their unborn children, and supports young people living with HIV on long term treatment.