We need to rethink our approach to HIV, Dr. Dazon Dixon Diallo of SisterLove said during a webinar from the National Museum of Natural History:
“There are all kinds of things in our future. Centering sexual health and well-being and pleasure instead of talking about risks. We have got to move away from burdening people with being forced to assess their sexual lives as risk. That’s not how people engage in their relationships… The human imperative is to have quality of life.”
Her remarks tie perfectly to the 2022 National HIV Testing Day theme – HIV testing is an act of self-care. This theme acknowledges and emphasizes that “knowledge of status is the gateway to engaging in prevention or treatment services that enable individuals, regardless of their status, to live a long and healthy life.”
An overview of current state of HIV and defining “status neutral”
Progress in the HIV epidemic is encouraging yet work remains to be done, particularly with addressing racial and ethnic disparities. Overall, from 2015 to 2019, HIV diagnoses decreased 9% in the United States. A cornerstone of these efforts is HIV testing. The terminology and framework commonly used is status neutral. This term describes how, regardless of a person’s test result, they proceed toward HIV prevention or HIV treatment. The care continuum activities are the same for either route. Status neutral reinforces person-centered and quality of life ideals.
Community health centers at the front lines of HIV care
Community Health Centers have long cared for people living with HIV and many were/are pioneers in the field.
In 2020, UDS data shows that health centers:
- Conducted nearly 2.5 million HIV tests;
- Delivered primary care services to almost 190,000 patients living with HIV;
- Provided Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) services to 389,000 patients; and
- Ensured that 81% of newly diagnosed HIV positive patients aged 15-65 years old were linked to care within 30 days of diagnosis.
Health centers have demonstrated their commitment to people living with HIV and to be partners in the community toward ending the HIV epidemic. Although they are different in many ways, we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic how health centers helped (and continue to help) administer vaccines in an equitable manner. They help provide outreach and education to people. They are trusted messengers. Some of these lessons can be applied to the work to end the HIV epidemic.
The tools we can use and a call to action
The paradigm shift in our approach to HIV, to paraphrase Dr. Dixon Diallo, is to talk with people about their sexual health and well-being and then offer the best tools we possess to respond. Some of the tools that we currently have include:
Find a health center today if you or someone you know would like to get an HIV test. Remember, HIV testing is an act of self-care, and the imperative is quality of life.