December 1, 2018, marks the 30th annual World AIDS Day. For three decades, this day has united people around the world in the fight against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS. World AIDS Day encourages support for those living with HIV and remembrance for those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses. While HIV is declining overall in the United States, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and one in seven don’t know it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone in the United States aged 13-64 get tested at least once as part of routine medical care. People at high risk for HIV should get tested at least once a year. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.
Over the years, there have been significant advances in the treatment of HIV. Antiretroviral medications, when taken as prescribed, can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in the blood. Recent research has shown that those with undetectable levels of HIV in their blood are at very low risk of transmitting HIV sexually. Antiretrovirals can also reduce the risk of HIV-negative people becoming infected when taken as “Pre-exposure Prophylaxis” or PrEP. PrEP is taken daily to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.
It is clear that HIV treatment now enables people to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives. While these accomplishments should be recognized and celebrated, stigma and discrimination remain pervasive in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS. The harmful effects of stigma and discrimination impact the emotional well-being and mental health of those infected, as well as hinder testing, treatment and other prevention efforts for those not aware of their status. Fear of stigma may prevent an HIV-positive individual from obtaining the essential medical care that he or she needs and those at risk from seeking testing. Fighting HIV-related stigma and discrimination is as important as ever.