Last week we discussed GetCheckedDC, a free at-home HIV testing kit for DC residents. Now, we’d like to ensure that you are supported and have a roadmap in case you test positive for HIV.
First Stop: Re-testing, Treatment, and Care
If you receive a positive HIV test result, be sure to visit a doctor to conduct a follow-up test to confirm the results. If the follow-up test is positive, you’ll be connected to a variety of treatment and care options.
While recognizing that a positive HIV test result can be traumatizing, it is helpful to attend the re-testing session with a close friend or family member for support. Support can mean a variety of things including driving you to and from the appointment, reminding you that an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence, or simply sharing space with you before and after the retest.
The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day. ART is recommended for everyone living with HIV and should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis. ART can’t cure HIV, but HIV medicines support people living with HIV (PLWHIV) thrive.
While on the topic of treatment, it’s important to discuss the fact that the sexual transmission of HIV can be stopped. When a person is living with HIV and is on effective treatment, it lowers the level of HIV (the viral load) in the blood. What?! This means that when the viral load is at a certain low, HIV cannot be transmitted. We call it “Undetectable = Untransmittable” or “U=U.”
If you are low-income or have no insurance, you may be eligible for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. This program includes HIV medical care, access to medications, case management, substance abuse, and mental health services, as well as support services.
Whether or not you are eligible for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, there are several services that you can seek out to support you in adhering to medical care, navigating personal and social stigma, and identifying a competent provider.
Next Stop: Navigating Disclosure & Community Support
Disclosure, in this case meaning telling someone that you are living with HIV, can be stressful. It is important to remember that you do not have to tell everyone you are living with that you have HIV. When talking with partners, family members, etc. you should disclose on your terms and when you are ready.
Throughout the DMV, there are a variety of support groups and resources for people living with HIV. Support groups have been shown to positively affect mental health and emotional well-being in people who are living with HIV. In addition, support groups allow you to connect personally with other people living with HIV, obtain information and guidance, and often share experiences.
While support groups remain impactful, it is also helpful to identify a few close friends and family members that offer you an unwavering amount of support. For instance, there may be times when you are depressed or unsure about the future. During these moments it is important to have a community of people ready to uplift and hold you up: on your terms and with your consent.
Last Stop: Focusing On You
Navigating any type of healthcare services, resources, or support, can be tricky. From identifying a competent provider to navigating insurance coverage options, it’s important to develop a few contacts and resources for your roadmap.
In addition, remember that you are seeking care for you. This means that you deserve to have a provider, partner, and community that offers you affirming and non-stigmatized care and support. People living with HIV, in addition to other groups that experience stigma, constantly interact with providers and community members that fail to acknowledge their worth. You do not deserve that. It is a human right for you to receive the utmost care, treatment, and dignity. Period.
Questions or concerns? Reach out to the DC Department of Health at (202) 671-4900.