HIV/AIDS in Ohio: Treatment, prevention and awareness

Made+on+Piktochart

Made on Piktochart

Brenna Parker

According to the Ohio Department of Health, one in five people are living with HIV and don’t know it. The department’s most recent figures from 2009-2013 show HIV steadily rose among young adults in the state of Ohio.

Kent State associate professor and HIV specialist Dianne Kerr said students do not visibly see HIV and AIDS because it is very difficult today to tell if someone has the disease. People in the U.S. do not notice cases of HIV or AIDS as much as the initial introduction in the 1980s because it was more common to see infected people that were thin and sickly. 

“I don’t think we realize the scope of it, or see the countries that have been most affected,” Kerr said. “When the epidemic first hit, half of gay men and hemophiliacs had it and were dying from it.”

Kerr said the rise in HIV/AIDS among young adult can be attributed to students not getting tested and not practicing safe sex. According to Kerr, the infection rate for HIV has stayed the same at about 50,000 new cases a year, but for homosexual men, heterosexual African-American women and young adults these groups are seeing an increase.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 78 million people have contracted HIV and close to 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes. The majority of these cases are located in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In many parts of Africa, if a woman does not breastfeed her baby it would starve,” Kerr said. “But breast milk, we know, transmits HIV.”

President George W. Bush initiated the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This government initiative is a commitment to combat the disease internationally.

According to PEPFAR, its investments also help alleviate the suffering from other diseases across the global health spectrum and promote a shared responsibility among donors and partner nations. As a result, PEPFAR has allowed other countries to help put an end to HIV/AIDS and has prevented over a million cases of mother to child transmissions for HIV. 

“When you think of the 30 million people who have died from HIV and AIDS complications. that is really pretty scary,” Kerr said. “We still do not have a cure or vaccine.”

HIV recently came back into the public spotlight on Nov. 15 when actor Charlie Sheen admitted on the TODAY show that he was HIV positive and was blackmailed in order to keep his medical information from being leaked to the public.

Kerr said this is an example of how there is still a stigma attached with having HIV, and that people do not want to reveal if they are infected.

“I know students here [at Kent State] who are infected and I can’t get them to want to speak on World AIDS day,” Kerr said. “Stigma is a major barrier when dealing with this disease.”

Joshua Morgan, Risk Reduction and Outreach Coordinator for Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative (CANAPI), said for people diagnosed with HIV it can be a life altering experience, but not a death sentence. People can continue to live long and healthy lives.

“The key to living a long and healthy life with HIV is getting tested so you know your status, adhering to your prescribed medication, maintaining a partnering relationship with your medical professionals and making sure you take care of yourself,” Morgan said. “Now, is that to say you should be working out six hours a day, six days a week… no. It means maintaining a health-conscience life and providing your body with the proper nutrition it needs.”

CANAPI operates several housing programs including Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA), which provides individuals living with HIV subsidized rent for up to 12 months. CANAPI allows federally subsidized housing for people living with HIV. This program houses up to five individuals at one time who are either eminently homeless or are currently homeless.

According to the 2012 HIV/AIDS Integrated Epidemiologic Profile for Ohio, Portage County in 2010 had reported 46 people living with HIV. Of those who reported, 52 percent of them had an unmet need for HIV primary medical care. Portage County for comparison has 14.3 percent of its population living under the federal poverty line with 11.6 percent living with no health insurance.

“People living with HIV are as human as any other person,” Morgan said. “Just because they are living with HIV does not change who they are, how they love or their ability to be loved.”

Morgan said the stigma associated with HIV is due to several variable factors including a general misunderstanding of HIV with the public, a lack of education regarding transmission methods and a misconception of cultural barriers.

“HIV does not discriminate,” Morgan said. “It is more prevalent among today’s youth, however the rise of HIV in general is a result of misconceptions, misunderstanding, lack of safer sex practices and intravenous drug use.”

Morgan said the increase in HIV amongst young adults can be attributed to not communicating with sexual partners and not knowing what sexual or drug behaviors that put those at risk for transmission.

“When first diagnosed with HIV, one can expect to be overwhelmed with questions and emotions,” Morgan said. “There are health professionals through your local health department and area AIDS organizations such as CANAPI to help along the process.”

According to Kerr, in a recent study done by the university, over 60 percent of Kent State students had not been tested for HIV. She wants to reach students early and get them the proper medication to further stop the spread on campus.

“There is a quote that (says) ‘statistics are just numbers with the tears wiped away’ those statistics represent people: mothers, fathers, sisters and other family members,” Kerr said. “I think when we see these numbers we should view them as people who were loved and cared about that is 30 million gone.”

The Ohio Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that healthcare providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once as a part of routine health care.

“The good news is that we are working to have an AIDS free generation,” Kerr said. “The way that we can do that is by focusing on prevention and also providing people drugs so that they do not go on to get AIDS.”

Scott Dotterer, Office of Health Promotions coordinator, said the Office of Health Promotions under University Health Services and CANAPI have partnered to provide free confidential HIV testing for Kent State students, faculty and staff.

“We coordinate the scheduling of the appointments, promote the free confidential screenings and provide the space,” Dotterer said.

World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 each year and Kent State will offer a series of events and programming during the week including a presentation on the history of HIV/AIDS, what to expect when testing for HIV, a resource table in the Kent Student Center second floor mezzanine and a roundtable discussion.

To schedule a free HIV confidential appointment on Dec. 9 call the University Health Services — Office of Health Promotion at 330–672–2320.

Brenna Parker is the health reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]