Since the 1980s, HIV and AIDS have ravaged our marginalized communities globally — taking countless lives and impacting many others. That is our history but the epidemic itself is anything but.
While it is undeniable, and certainly relieving, that HIV infection rates have lowered over the past few decades and the overall quality of life for those living with the virus has vastly improved due to strides in prevention and treatment, that does not mean our work to eradicate the virus is complete. In fact, there is so much we must do to end this epidemic once and for all.
Just yesterday, we honored National Transgender HIV Testing Day to help raise awareness about the disproportionate HIV infection rates for transgender folks nationwide and highlight access to critical testing that helps keep us all protected.
According to interviews of transgender women in seven US cities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 42 percent of those questioned were living with HIV. Of that group, 62 percent of Black transgender women interviewed and 35 percent of Hispanic transgender women interviewed were living with HIV … compared to the 17 percent of White transgender women.
Those numbers offer a glimpse into what some communities are still facing due to factors outside of their control: systemic racism, spreading homophobia and transphobia, limited access to adequate and affordable healthcare, and inequitable wealth, among many others. These disparities unjustly hold those needing HIV-related healthcare back, leaving some individuals at disproportionate risk for contracting and/or not receiving appropriate treatment for HIV.
And, of those factors, there is an even clearer disparity rises to the top: inequitable accessibility to resources that can help prevent HIV transmission. If we’re looking to end the HIV epidemic, we must look no further than breaking down the arbitrary barriers holding some communities back from receiving what they need to protect their sexual health.
There are approximately 1.5 million new cases of HIV every year across the globe, including over 35,000 new infections in the United States. That is 35,000 too many given the innovative advances we have made in the HIV/AIDS research space … and that is undoubtedly tied to lacking access in a more universal way. We must demand action.
That’s why we all need to serve as a united front in the accessibility space. Here’s how we can start:
- Advocate on the state, local, and federal levels for continued government action.
- Share resources widely and publicly to our networks to increase overall awareness of widely available — and life-changing — testing, treatment, and prevention tools.
- Volunteer at a local health or LGBTQ-focused non-profits in the DMV area to give back.
- Educate yourself about what it means to be “status neutral” and how that can impact partnered sexual contact.
- Take a friend or loved one with you as you get tested to demystify the process, and challenge them to do the same.
- Understand prevention methods like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PeP (post-exposure prophylaxis), and inform others of their impact.
- Call out negative rhetoric about HIV and those living with it.
- Review additional resources and support offered by DC Health.
- Take to social media to share this article and shine a light on this crucial work.
Breaking down the institutional walls that limit access to HIV resources will not happen overnight. This work has been the drumbeat of HIV advocates for decades and, while there has been massive progress, there is still so much work we need to do to eradicate this virus.
It will not be easy work but we can make immense progress together. So, let’s commit ourselves to doing what we can in our own personal slices of life … and to demanding, not asking, for more from our lawmakers, policy leaders, health experts, and more.
For more information on HIV prevention and treatment methods, visit sexualbeing.org.