|Today is World AIDS Day. It's a good day to remember those who have been lost to this dread disease and also a day to remember that hope is still alive. There is still no cure for people who are HIV positive, but, now, the condition can be managed, much as other chronic conditions, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure.|
My nephew, James Thompson, works at Evergreen Health Services. Originally, this health care facility was known as AIDS Community Services. Its mission now is to work with individuals who are considered to be underserved or stigmatized, especially those who are living with a variety of chronic health conditions. I asked James a few questions, mostly focused on what he would tell someone who was newly diagnosed as being HIV positive. He wrote a very insightful and informative essay on the issue, which I am sharing in two parts.
Here are the answers to my questions about HIV and AIDS:
1) What would you tell someone who is newly diagnosed?
a. HIV/AIDS in today’s world is not what it used to be in the early part of the AIDS epidemic. When AIDS was first hitting the news in 1981, when young gay men were coming down with seemingly inexplicable immune system failure, resulting in rare opportunistic infections, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, there was a lot of fear around the disease, and rightly so. It took several more years of research to figure out how the disease was spread, there was no cure (and still is no cure), no medications to slow the spread of the HIV virus in your body, and millions of people around the world died.
b. Today, through advancements in antiretroviral therapy drugs, people living with HIV can do just that, they can LIVE with HIV. Many people living with HIV only need to take one pill per day to manage the disease, especially those who have been diagnosed in more recent years and started antiretroviral therapy quickly after diagnosis.
c. That being said, having HIV requires you to stay on top of your health. Even though today’s medications are designed to suppress the virus in your body so that you reach “undetectable” levels, the virus always remains. By having a virus in your body that is designed to kill your immune system, you must take control of your health to keep your immune system as healthy as possible. It becomes doubly important to eat right; exercise; sleep; stay on top of care for all of your other co-morbid conditions, such as high blood pressure, mental health conditions, diabetes, etc; and see your doctor every three months for routine blood work to check the progression of the virus in your body. With HIV detectable in your body, any routine health nuisance for healthy people, such as the common cold or pneumonia, can become problematic for you if your immune system is compromised.
d. Becoming HIV positive is not a death sentence in the slightest in today’s day, but access to quality, routine medical care becomes vital. People of color, people who are LGBT, and people who are otherwise poor and have inadequate access to health care, and people who live in states with inadequate health care networks or in rural areas, are still at risk for all of the health risks that come with having a compromised immune system because they may not have access to today’s high-tech antiretroviral drugs that allow them to live healthy lives.
2) Can people with HIV/AIDS have hope for their future?
a. Absolutely. Living with HIV is just the same as living a full life, thanks to today’s high-tech, low-side effect antiretroviral drugs. As previously mentioned, it takes a concerted effort on your part to live a healthy lifestyle to keep up your immune system function, but with today’s drugs, there is no reason to not live life to the fullest.
Tomorrow: James Thompson talks about the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS, accessing health insurance, and opportunities for support for people who live with HIV/AIDS.