Michael Weinstein, CEO and President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), has come under fire recently for comments where he called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis a "party drug". The reaction has been that his comments only serve to stigmatize people who are trying to protect themselves...
With studies that show HIV-treatments and male circumcision drastically reduce transmission, what had once seemed impossible may now be within our vision. As Bono said, the pandemic will be in decline when"fewer people are infected than treated."
Despite this optimism, HIV/AIDS organizations are facing devastating cuts to testing and are still not informing clients or the community about all the options, including self-testing. They continue to foster dependency rather than empowerment, operating from a place of crisis. Change is going to have to be a grassroots effort.
In 2006, The Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations that all people ages 15-65 be screened for HIV. In 2013, the US Prevention Task Force issued recommendations that reinforce these recommendations. In July, 2012, the FDA approved Orasure Technology's application for rapid self-testing (also known as "home-based, self-administered", or HBSA HIV-tests, or Over-the-Counter Rapid Test - OTCRT). Despite all this, HIV-testing organizations have serious limitations in their capacity to test people. More troubling, these organizations are not informing people about options for self-testing despite the fact that research indicates we are ready to try it. Studies show that some of the highest-risk individuals who have never tested state that they would if self-testing were an option. Furthermore, in places where people are discouraged from using public funds for testing, self-testing is a viable option. UNAIDS made the case for self-testing in its 2011 World AIDS Day Report. Self-testing allows for bold thinking and bold action. Imagine the power that would come from having all people in the US Know Their Status within 2 years of OTCRT approval. (See Brad Ogilvie's Washington Post essay about bolder action in DC).
With this opportunity, however, come new challenges and responsibilities. The Mosaic Initiative is planning a series of workshops called "HIV Self-Testing: Opportunities, Issues and Ethics" with an emphasis on getting basic information and awareness to counselors, pastors and educators who may have previously not been on the frontlines of HIV-testing but may found themselves there. Our first series of workshops will be in Illinois in the fall (specifics to be determined), but we will also work with any and all in the DC area as well. If you know of venues to hold a workshop, please contact Brad
Here is a sample video of how social networking can help educate and inform people:
(If this plays slow, you can also see this video here)
This is just one aspect of our work. We are committed to working with communities in Illinois, Washington DC, rural Kenya, and anywhere that doors open to stopping the spread of HIV. Modern technology gives us more options than ever to reach more people than ever. We welcome you to join us. Some simple things you can do:
Get tested. If you are comfortable, share with us your experience, including costs, paperwork, time, etc. We are collecting narratives as we promote changes so access is as easy as possible.
Know the Basics. As this video shows, these are often overlooked:
Learn more about where the barriers lie, and what are the concerns that need to be addressed.