On World AIDS Day, a call to speak up

Andy Moore is the Clinic Administrator for the Infectious Diseases Institute at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, organizer of the OKC AIDS Coalition, and member of the board of trustees for the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund.

In June of 1981, five men walked into a Los Angeles emergency room and were diagnosed with a rare type of skin cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Over the next several months, dozens more presented with either KS or a similarly rare type of pneumonia, pneumocystis carinii. Questions swirled even as words like “wasting,” “AIDS,” and “death” became used with increased frequency on the evening news. By 1995, more than half a million people in the U.S. were infected with HIV. Today, that number is closer to 1.2 million, including an estimated 6,000 Oklahomans.

A lot has changed over the 36 years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. What began as an unknown virus with no treatment that killed patients within a few years is now an intensely-studied, well-understood, chronic infection that can be managed by multiple advanced medication regimens that are tailored to the individual patient. Testing for the disease can be done for as little as $5 and as quickly as one minute, making outreach and diagnosis easier than ever. Smartphones and social media enable the public to find testing and treatment near them by simply sending a text. And due to these advancements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, people are living with HIV not just for years, but for decades.

However, our work is not done. Infections rates are starting to increase, particularly among minorities and youths. Medications remain prohibitively expensive, often exceeding $2,500 per month. With an ever-increasing number of people living with the disease and an ever-dwindling amount of resources with which to care for them, the challenge we now face is how to stretch resources so that people don’t outlive our capacity to care for them. Because AIDS in America is not the death sentence it once was, we have stopped talking about it on the evening news. Except for today, December 1st – World AIDS Day.

We can stop the spread of HIV, but we need your help. First, educate yourself by reading over the basics of HIV. Next, stand up to stigma by sharing your knowledge with your kids, your friends, your family, and your co-workers. Then, get involved with HIV organizations in your area, such as the OKC AIDS Coalition, Tulsa CARES, HOPE Testing, or Mama Knows.

As we learned early in the epidemic, “Silence = Death” for those affected by HIV. Too many voices have been lost to HIV. Today, join us in ensuring those voices are heard.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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