World AIDS Day is December 1. During this day, folks unite against HIV, support those battling HIV, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. This year's theme for 2018 is "Breaking Through Stigma."
When did World AIDS Day start?
Although the virus was first named in 1981, World AIDS Day began in 1988. It is also the first ever world health day.
Why does World AIDS Day matter?
WAD is an important day because it is dedicated to promoting awareness and supporting folks affected with HIV/AIDS--whether it is themselves or a loved one battling a diagnosis. The number of people living with AIDS has sharply decreased since the 1980s and 1990s, but a large group of people are still affected today.
There are currently around 36.7 million people who are infected with HIV. Since 1984, nearly 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS.
Times they are a'changin
When the HIV/AIDS epidemic began, recognition and coverage of the epidemic was extremely sparse, and often swept under the rug. People infected with AIDS were dying at an alarming rate, and given little chance to live long. Resources and treatment were also hard to come by. But over the decades, that has changed. Awareness, effective treatment, and access to vital medications have improved the lives of many, no longer making HIV/AIDS a death sentence.
In October 2017, the Centers for Disease Control released a historic statement, formally declaring people who are living with HIV and are undetectable do not pose a risk of transmitting HIV. Not only does the CDC's statment build a strong case for the use of PrEP - regardless of a person's HIV status - it helps break down the stigma associated with folks living with HIV.
In 2017, the Health Department of New York City announced the rate of new HIV diagnoses dropped nearly 9 percent from 2015 to 2016. This is a huge step forward in ending the epidemic and reducing the rate of infection. Officials by and large believe the drop in new cases is a direct result of access and use of PrEP.
Fighting the LGBTQ stigma
People living with HIV/AIDS have always faced a stigma regarding their status. There have been plenty of stereotypes perpetuated around having HIV/AIDS, but members of the LGTBQ are arguably impacted the most. For gay men (or men who have sex with men), the stigma and risk for HIV/AIDS is much higher. Hence, part of World AIDS Day is to break down those stigmas and stereotypes for everyone affected, but also for minority communities.
Apicha CHC's commitment to fighting the epidemic
Apicha Community Health Center was formerly– Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS. It was founded in 1989 when A&PIs, along with the Native American Indians, were in the “Other” category of AIDS surveillance data. Gay activists and civil rights advocates from both communities marched on Washington, DC and successfully convinced the federal government to add two columns in the census count – A&PI and American Indian and Native Alaskan.
At the beginning of the epidemic, it was important to bring prevention education to the community where many believed that Asians were resistant to HIV virus. At this early period, our case management services consisted mainly preparing clients with AIDS to die with dignity, and arranging funerals.
As HIV became more manageable and as we gained experience in providing culturally competent care, we put together in 2001 a one-stop shop comprehensive continuum of care, adding in-house HIV primary care to our robust case management program. This was important as our immigrant client base had difficulty navigating the fragmented medical care on top of having language difficulties.
Apicha CHC’s current care model evolved out of this innovative HIV service delivery model. Its key characteristics are robust outreach, community health education, case management, and medical care. Due to our success, members of the HIV-negative LGBT community requested care from Apicha CHC. In response to this request and a changing healthcare environment, we expanded to serve those at high risk for HIV, including the broader LGB community in 2009. We expanded to meet the primary care and support needs of the transgender community in 2011.
As Apicha CHC expands its services, we continue to serve our legacy populations: people living with HIV/AIDS, A&PIs, and the LGBT community. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our work to End the HIV/AIDS Epidemic (ETE). In 2016, Apicha CHC worked tirelessly to meet the goals outlined in Governor Cuomo’s three-pillar ETE plan. Apicha CHC excels in all three pillars: 1) diagnosing people with HIV and linking them to care; 2) retaining them care and getting them virally load suppressed; and 3) facilitating access to PREP/PEP for people who are high-risk HIV-negative.
Today we recognize World AIDS Day, an annual day of recognition of the continuing worldwide struggle against AIDS. Let us reflect on Apicha CHC’s involvement in the fight against the epidemic and the friends, lovers and patients we’ve lost along the way. This is a fight to which we will always remain committed.