Organizations in Central New York and across the nation are gearing up to host memorials and other events to mark World AIDS Day. They're also urging people to “Know their Status,” the theme of this year’s international observance.
Recent medical developments are allowing Central New Yorkers living with AIDS or HIV to live fuller and longer lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, is when people at very high risk for HIV take daily medicines to lower their chances of infection. The combination of two HIV medicines is approved for daily use to help prevent an HIV-negative person from contracting the disease from a sexual partner who is positive.
John Wikiera chairs the The CNY HIV Care Network, and has been HIV positive for more than 25 years. He says new findings suggest that if the virus is effectively kept down, a person can have a more normal relationship.
“If your viral load is undetectable, then science is saying that you cannot transmit the virus to others, which is a huge thing, because for the past 26 years people like myself have been told ‘be careful, you don’t want to transmit the virus to anybody else,’” he said. “You kind of felt like a biohazard or walking time bomb.”
However, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) David Johns feels the black community is not reaping all the benefits of these advances.
“Black people have, in spite of being 12% of the nation’s population, almost more than half of the new diagnoses in terms of HIV/AIDS are within the Black community. That, in it of itself, and the fact that we lead in all the negative ways, is an indication that there is not enough information, not enough resources,” he said.
Even in a progressive state like New York, Johns says many black patients face discrimination and problems in the type of care they receive.
"Even if we think about access to support and resources in New York, it looks very different if you are white vs. if you are not. Overarchingly, it's a patchwork."
In addition to care and treatment, Wikiera says other factors often affect people living with the disease. One of those factors is housing stability.
“It’s been shown, study after study, that when you have quality housing, safe secure housing then people seem to do better health wise. That’s not just HIV positive people, it’s anyone with chronic illness.”
A New York City law provides rent assistance for people with HIV/AIDS. Those living with the disease and their supporters hope to see that measure passed statewide this year, which would help people afford housing here in Syracuse.
The CNY HIV Care Network will have “Prayers of Remembrance” at University Methodist Church Friday at noon, and LeMoyne College will be hosting a Remembrance Service and reception Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Panasci Family Chapel.