Health

Visibilty of HIV/AIDS

Battling the Stigma of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic of Metro-Atlanta

In the everyday life of most Americans, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the accompanying Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are vaguely known as life-changing illnesses that are not very relevant to their lives, but ones that exists in a world different to theirs. As a result, many people have only been exposed to the concept of HIV/AIDS through popular culture, either by famous celebrities coming out with their diagnosis, like Charlie Sheen, Magic Johnson, and Freddie Mercury or popular movies featuring the illness like Dallas Buyers Club, Queen, and The Normal Heart. HIV is a viral infection that is transmitted through either sexual contact or exposure to infected blood leading to a defective immune system in which your own white blood cells are destroyed. The final stage of HIV is referred to as AIDS and the body becomes drastically susceptible towards fatal infections and cancer.

The relative invisibility of HIV/AIDS can be significantly attributed towards the negative stigma towards the ailment in the past and even the current judgment of some who live with the life-threatening illness. Before being called HIV/AIDS, the auto-immune disease was classified as Gay-related immune deficiency, or GRID for short. When the ailment was first detected in the United States, people most commonly affected were gay men, as the illness  is often sexually transmitted. At that time, protection during sex, especially in the gay community, was not a common practice with up to 70% of men admitting to intercourse without protection. When first mentioned in 1982 by the NYTimes, healthcare providers did not give GRID much attention due to the already present prejudice against LGBT persons at that time. 

Although research now shows that HIV/AIDS is not only an illness that only affects homosexual males, the stigma against an HIV/AIDS diagnosis still remains tainted by the prejudiced past. Currently, the lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS can be traced to the population that is most infected: the LGBT community and people with low socioeconomic status. Both of these communities are often overshadowed in terms of health care and social awareness. Furthermore, HIV/AIDS is often considered a problem distant from the United States, as many people know that sub-Saharan Africa is ravaged by this disease. AIDS is the leading cause of death in that region.

However, according to Carlos del Rio, the co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research, there is a generalized HIV epidemic in Downtown Atlanta that mimics some African cities. The high rates of HIV/AIDS in Atlanta is especially prevalent in  gay or bisexual young, black men. He additionally found that AIDS is so rampant in that community that it has now become the leading cause of death for black men in Georgia between the ages of 35 and 44. AIDSVu, an organization that organizes HIV epidemic data in an interactive online tool, has found some staggering numbers regarding HIV prevalence in Georgia. The number of people living in Georgia with HIV in 2017 was 37,155 with a significant portion being African American (70.4%) and male (80.4%).

Furthermore, HIV mortality in Atlanta is high at 375 deaths in 2017 and increasing to 800 individuals for all of Georgia. In 2016, HIV/AIDS claimed 15,807 lives across the United States with the deaths not being equally distributed in all the regions with approximately 47% of the deaths occurring in the South. Due to the disease being prevalent in a highly disenfranchised group, receiving treatment or even testing is a significant obstacle to curbing this epidemic. Affected  people have even more pressing issues, such as where they will get their next meal or a place to rest. 

Recent investigations by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development into Atlanta’s troubled housing program–for people living with AIDS and HIV–have exacerbated housing difficulties for afflicted individuals.The current program that handles housing for its clients is HOPWA which works in conjunction with nonprofits that help subsidize rent, administration costs, and other services. With investigations into inadequate housing, potential corruption, and more concerns, the controversy has threatened about 250 HIV/AIDS-afflicted clients homeless.

While the significant presence of HIV/AIDS in Atlanta may seem insurmountable, Atlanta has taken a new approach to this public health concern. Recently, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms created a new government position: chief health officer.  Their duties involve creating a support system around the greater Atlanta community to reduce new HIV transmissions. Dr. Angelica Geter Fugerson is the first person appointed to this position, and she has extensively researched HIV/AIDS and the equity and health disparities around it. Finally, Emory University has taken charge in the national stage by investing in new efforts to tackle this epidemic through research, treatment, education, and changing perceptions around HIV/AIDS.

Even though HIV/AIDS seems like  a distant problem for most college students, it is still important to know that it does not discriminate in who it affects. Everyone should be aware of its damaging impact. Georgia Tech Stamps Health Initiatives partners with AIDs Healthcare Foundation to provide free HIV testing for Georgia Tech students. 

A Health Educator at Stamps Health Initiatives listed a variety of reasons why students get tested: they see it and are interested, they get extra-credit for their APPH health class, they are following CDC recommendations which is to get tested once or twice a year, or even after personal risky behavior/ “scare”. Participating for any reason in the free HIV testing can help show other students that there should be no stigma against practicing healthy preventative behavior and there should be no different behavior around HIV/AIDS-infected individuals.

404-870-7700

AIDS Atlanta

Provides HIV/AIDS related services, care, and education to the Atlanta Community

800-551-2728

Ga AIDS/STD Information Lines

Informs counseling and linkage to care

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