Health and community leaders gather to discuss ways to end HIV/AIDS epidemic

Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 10:27 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Dec. 1, World Aids Day, the Biden administration kicked off a global effort to end the AIDS epidemic.

Monday night in Memphis, doctors, advocates, and activists came together to talk about how that can be accomplished in a community with one of the highest HIV transmission rates in the country.

The goal is to wipe out HIV and AIDS by 2030.

To do that, target demographics must be reached, and one of the most important groups in Shelby County is heterosexual Black women.

During an informational seminar on HIV and AIDS hosted by the Delta Sigma Theta Memphis Alumnae Chapter on Facebook, program moderator and Action News 5 weekend anchor Kelli Cook opened up the dialogue with a personal note about her cousin.

“My family doesn’t talk about how she passed,” Kelly told the panel. “We talk a lot about her, but not about how she passed, and that has a lot to do with the stigma surrounding the disease.”

Ending that stigma is an important part of ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Panelist Kelli Holloway is a case manager at “Friends for Life,” an agency that provides counseling, medical care, groceries, and emergency housing for HIV-positive individuals.

“We’re teaching families,” said Holloway, “and teaching individuals how to have these conversations with their families and those who are closest to them when they are ready, and in a way that helps them stay safe.”

The CDC says that as of 2020, more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV.

In Shelby County, more than 6,200 people have the disease, according to the latest figures available.

Gay and bisexual men make up most of the cases, followed by Black heterosexual women.

”As a woman who is living out loud with an HIV diagnosis,” said HIV activist LaDeia Joyce, “representation is few, far and in between. What we see in the media is very much a trope, very much stigmatized, very much a stereotype of what a Black woman living with an HIV diagnosis is in today’s world.”

Joyce said she is determined to reach cisgender women with real data and real-world solutions.

“So just getting women educated is important,” she said, “because in order for us to stop the epidemic, something as simple as having continued conversations that are real, raw, open, honest, and educated is what we can do to stop the spread of this epidemic in our community.”

According to Dr. Marye Bernard, founder of Spirit Health, today’s medicines now make living with HIV more tolerable.

She also said talking about the disease will make it easier to wipe out.

“Starting in the early years,” said Dr. Bernard, “treatment choices were very limited. Today’s HIV treatment is an exact science. You can do anything you want to do. Live a normal, happy, healthy life. Child bear, go to school, buy a house. Do the American Dream.”

The panelists all agreed that one of the biggest issues is getting people tested for HIV.

It’s easy. It’s anonymous. But it’s also scary, especially for women.

Testing was also way down during the pandemic.

Dr. Bernard said even if you get a positive diagnosis, it’s no longer a death sentence with the medicine now available.

Some of her patients, she said, get an injection every other month instead of taking pills every day.

For more information about HIV testing, to find tests, or to support the wellness of local HIV patients, visit Friends for Life’s website.

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