Celebrating World AIDS Day

– Written by Tina Ross at NashvilleCARES

Celebrating World Aids Day

World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 to commemorate those who have passed away from AIDS related illnesses, provides an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, and to show support for those living with HIV. With new scientific advances in treatment, people who contract the virus rarely advance to an AIDS diagnosis. We now have hope that one day there will be a cure, but for now, medication is key to being successful living with HIV and preventing HIV infection.  We now know that if an HIV infected person takes their medication as prescribed, with no missed doses, they will get to what we call “undetectable.”  This simply means that there is so little virus in the body it cannot be spread through sex. It has not been tested and proven through sharing needles.

What is HIV and how do you become infected?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, specifically the CD4 cells.  CD4 cells are critical in fighting infection and play an important role in immune function; when these cells are depleted, the immune system becomes impaired.  A normal range of these cells in a human are 500-1200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.

Ways to get HIV:                                                                                                                       

  • Sharing needles
  • Unprotected sex
  • Though very rare, mother to child transmission does happen

Fluids that contain HIV:

  • Seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Blood
  • Breast Milk
  • Rectal fluid

Women who are HIV positive are advised not to breastfeed and usually have C-section deliveries to control the bleeding and to avoid vaginal fluid.  As treatment advances, the only time we see mother to child transmission is when a mother is not in prenatal care.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, and it can develop in a person who is HIV+.  An AIDS diagnosis is determined if the CD4 cell number falls to 200 or below or if a person develops an opportunistic infection. With testing as a prevention method, early diagnosis and treatment help ensure that those who are HIV+ will never see an AIDS diagnosis.

Contrary to what people think, we do not test for AIDS (there is no test for this), we test for the virus that can cause AIDS, which is HIV. AIDS is a diagnosis that only a doctor can give based on a group of symptoms occurring together. An AIDS diagnosis doesn’t mean a person will die. With treatment, a person can come out of an AIDS diagnosis, and their immune system can build back up to fight infection.  We call this a recovery because a treatment regimen must be followed to maintain a healthy immune system.  Stopping HIV medication can cause the immune system to become severely impaired again, placing someone back in the AIDS category.

HIV Statistics Among Women

Per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), HIV diagnoses have declined in women in recent years; however more than 7,000 women in the US received an HIV diagnosis in 2018.  Most of the infections among women were attributed to heterosexual contact, that’s around 85% (6,130 cases).  Injection drug use among women made up 15% (1,049 cases). With COVID, these numbers will increase, as many women have relapsed.

African American women account for 57% of new diagnoses.  That’s around 4,114 out of the 7,000 diagnosed in 2018.  Caucasian women made up 21% (1,526 cases), and Hispanic women made up 18% (1,264 cases).  The majority of these women fell in the age group of 13-45, mostly child bearing years. Women who abuse drugs are at a higher risk not only because of sharing needles but because many women resort to selling sex in exchange for drugs.

Additionally, factors like homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, mental health issues, lack of access to healthcare, etc can increase a woman’s risk of contracting HIV. Unfortunately, women are usually the caregivers of the household, and they often put other’s health ahead of their own. The Office of Women’s Health leads National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which happens every year on March 10.

About Nashville CARES and My House Clinic

Nashville CARES was founded in 1985, and we are  the premier HIV/AIDS service organization in Tennessee.  From 2018-2019 we served more than 50,000 individuals living with HIV and those that are at risk for HIV. Due to COVID-19, our clinic is closed, but we continue to provide essential services to our current clients. We are providing nutrition services and case management with our active clients, and we are doing drive-thru HIV and HepC testing every Friday throughout the rest of the year.

For those that cannot make it on Friday to get tested, we can mail out a home test kit discreetly with instructions on how to administer the test.  mission is to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Middle Tennessee by providing education/outreach, advocacy, and most importantly supporting those at risk or living with HIV.  We now have a clinic located at 442 Metroplex Drive, Bldg D, Nashville, TN 37211, telephone 615-499-7502.

With our clinic now open, we are treating new diagnoses the same day, thanks to Gilead Sciences.  We also offer PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis) to individuals that are at a higher risk of getting HIV or have been exposed to HIV.  You can visit our website www.nashvillecares.org, to find out more about what we do and how you can volunteer.

Margaret

One of our beloved clients and volunteers, Margaret, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 as a result of using a dirty needle shooting cocaine.  She was a drug runner, she prostituted, and she did whatever she needed to do to support herself and her drug addiction. Her addiction was so severe that a nearly fatal trip to the ER in September 2000 wasn’t enough to convince her to change her habits. She was convicted of felony drug charges the day before her 54th birthday. She served her sentence along with eight years of parole before finally making lasting changes in her life.

Upon her release from prison, Margaret had to do 240 hours of community service, so she walked in Nashville CARES to work off her hours. She completed all her service hours, continued to volunteer, and took advantage of groups that was available to clients of CARES.  Through volunteering and sharing her story with others, Margaret has maintained her sobriety and attributes that all to Nashville CARES and the staff that continues to support her through her journey.  Today, Margaret is still very much involved. Even during COVID, she shows up every Tuesday and Wednesday to help with the distribution of food to our clients.

Miss Margaret (that’s what we call her) does whatever she can to give back. She has raised more than $2,000 for agency fundraisers, speaks at various events, and she also goes to Washington D.C. for AIDS Watch, an annual advocacy event. Miss Margaret also gives back to the recovery community by volunteering every year at Recovery Fest and speaking at women’s treatment facilities.

RESOURCES:

Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U)
HIV Testing
PrEP information
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Published on December 10, 2020
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