On World AIDS Day 2015, healthcare experts acknowledge the great work they have been doing by developing life-saving medications and treatments to fight the widely spread HIV -the virus that causes AIDS– which was first reported in the summer of 1981 and was believed to be a rare form of cancer. However, medical efforts alone cannot beat the disease, as long as social, legal and religious discrimination remain unchallenged.

One of every four sexually active gay and bisexual men should be taking a daily pill in order to prevent HIV, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The medication consists of a drug treatment called preexposure prophylaxis or PrEP, marketed under the brand name Truvada, which can reduce by more than 90 percent the risk of sexually acquired HIV. Among people who use injected drugs, PrEP can lower the risk of HIV infection by more than 70 percent. Therefore, the promising medication can significantly reduce new infections in the United States.

The World AIDS Day is held on December 1st each year as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV. Credit: Worldaidsday.org

Nevertheless, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden pointed out in a statement on Tuesday that many people who could benefit from PrEP are not getting it, mainly due to the fact that a large number of providers are still not aware of its promise. He added that there are around 40,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. each year and that all available prevention strategies must be taken into account in order to reduce that rate. The medication and treatments can only be effective if people know about them and have access to them, as commented by Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

AIDS: A tough battle against discrimination

“But medicine alone cannot stop this epidemic, as long as HIV stigma and discrimination still exists. When stigma and discrimination continue unchallenged, it keeps people from getting tested and receiving treatment -both critical steps in ending the epidemic”, as written on the Huffington Post by Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) Executive Director and LGBTQ rights lawyer.

According to Frieden, about 65 percent of the estimated 1.2 million Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV are not receiving any treatment, since many of them do not seek help after being tested. Alarmingly, they account for 90 percent of all new infections. This means that 9 of every 10 Americans with HIV are not in treatment.

A recent nationwide survey carried by the San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, revealed that 36 percent of HIV-positive adults reported having been discriminated by a healthcare provider. As a consequence, 8 percent of them refused medical help. This is just one example that explains why so many people with AIDS are not seeking treatment.

As for social discrimination, HIV-positive patients are often rejected once others are told about their status. For instance, the actor Charlie Sheen was forced to make public he was HIV-positive on November 10th. He admitted on the “Today Show” that he had been diagnosed four years ago and had been keeping it secret by paying millions of dollars to people who threatened him to sell pictures of his anti-viral medication to tabloids. The National Enquirer even carried out an extensive investigation that accused him of having hidden his HIV for such a long time, as if the public were entitled to know about it. All the fuss the media made of Sheen’s diagnosis just gives people with HIV more reasons to feel rejected and avoid medical treatment. Besides, such cases prevent people who think they might be infected from getting tested.

Furthermore, as reported by The Center for HIV Law and Policy, 32 states, and 2 U.S. territories have criminal statutes related to AIDS. From 2008 to 2013, at least 180 HIV-positive people were arrested and/or prosecuted for consensual sex, biting and spitting. As a result, people with AIDS often have to register as sex offenders for actions that only have a remote probability of spreading the virus.

Prevention is key

In spite of discrimination and lack of healthcare access, people are still responsible for preventing and treating the disease. Dr. Eugene McCray, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, says that healthcare providers must work along with patients to decide which options best meet their needs. As for people in general, he reminds that the use of condoms and sterile injection equipment are a must-have especially among people at high risk, such as men who have sex with other men, heterosexual men or women who have sex with partners of unknown HIV status and anyone who has been involved in a drug abuse program.

Source: Huffington Post