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AIDS treatment: Simplified,still a stigma

IT used to be that a person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS had received an automatic death sentence. It used to be that some doctors and nurses faced with a HIV/AIDS patient would run away in horror. It used to be that HIV/AIDS patients had to juggle a daily prescription regimen of 15-20 pills in an effort to stay alive. It used to be — and still is — that a social stigma was attached to the affliction most often associated with being gay and injection drug use. December is AIDS Awareness Month, and Quad-City area health officials say the situation has improved in the past 10 years. Rather than a death sentence, AIDS is now considered a chronic, life-threatening disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Patients living with HIV often do not have full-blown AIDS, and those who do are now living longer, more normal lives, officials say. At present, there are about 300 patients being treated for HIV/AIDS in the Quad-Cities, many of them with a simple drug routine. “We’ve switched from the acute disease to the chronic disease model,” said Dr. Louis Katz. Once referred to as “Dr. AIDS” for his outreach efforts, Katz is the medical director of the Community Health Care Regional Virology Center in Davenport. While there is no cure for AIDS, treatment consists largely of one pill per day that contains three types of medication. The cost, though, is steep: $10,000 to $20,000 per year, the doctor estimated. “This medicine is more potent and less complicated than in the past,” he said. The pill will prevent or suppress the infection, probably for the rest of a patient’s life. Katz is satisfied with the way the disease is now being treated. In fact, long-term methods, he said, are “probably better” than what is now available for patients with chronic heart disease, Hepatitis C or Type 1 diabetes. However, estimates show that one-fourth to one-third of those in the United States with the virus do not know it. Some people with the virus simply do not want to know. “They are not prepared, in a variety of dimensions, to deal with a positive test,” Katz said. The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS also means that some families refuse to support relatives who are afflicted. “There is definitely still a need to help with supportive services or housing,” said Maya de Quervain, director of the DeLaCerda House in Rock Island. The facility includes a five-person group home and transitional apartment housing, and it is one of the few AIDS-specific housing providers in either Iowa or Illinois. Stigma remains Society has become more accepting of the gay lifestyle, and of those with the virus, de Quervain and others agree. However, the stigma continues. Some employers discriminate against workers with HIV/AIDS, partly because the treatment costs are so high, Katz said. Other patients are shunned by specific cultures. Recent immigrants from Africa who have HIV/AIDS are fearful of being found out, especially by others of the same ethnicity, said Sandee Millage, a registered nurse at the Community Health Care Regional Virology Center. “We have come a long way, but the stigma is still out there,” she added. “Black, gay and HIV-positive, that’s still the worst (to be),” de Quervain said. A disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS case are minorities. For example, 57 percent of the new Quad-City cases are African-American and 21 percent are Hispanic patients, according to Rael Slavensky of the Rock Island County Health Department. By contrast, blacks represent 9 percent of the Rock Island County and 6 percent of the Scott County populations. Hispanics constitute 10 percent of the Rock Island County and 5 percent of the Scott County populations. That demographic contradiction can be explained by lack of access to health care and inadequate information for high-risk, hard-to-reach populations, explained Slavensky, the health department’s director of planning and prevention. “There’s really no one group out there who has embraced HIV/AIDS.” Slavensky has helped HIV/AIDS patients since he saw his first case, in 1981 in Cook County, Ill. “Back then, doctors and nurses would run away from AIDS patients,” he said, noting that the virus has actually prompted better medical practices. Those include the storage and disposal of needles and the basic idea that people can have a disease that is not immediately detectable. Treatment is much better, he said, adding, “I have friends who have had the HIV virus for 18 years and are happy, healthy, working people living very reasonable lives.” Prevention, outreach AIDS Project Quad-Cities, based in Moline, was founded in 1986 with a sole focus on the virus and disease. Care managers support patients, and they also go out in the community to conduct prevention and education classes. Studies show that students often are misinformed about the virus and the disease, said Thea Hansen, the organization’s community relations coordinator. HIV/AIDS patients do get a lot of support from the local gay community, she said, but they run into problems in other areas. “Progress has been made over the last 10 years, but there’s still no cure,” Hansen added. “I’d love to be out of a job for that reason.” Deirdre Cox Baker can be contacted at (563) 383-2492 or Comment on this story at HIV/AIDS tests Five Quad-City area sites are among those that offer tests for HIV/AIDS. In the case of the Community Health Care Regional Virology Center, the tests are done with a device called OraQuick, which is 99.6 percent accurate, according to the center’s Sandee Millage. The sites include: n AIDS Project Quad-Cities, 2316 5th Ave., Moline. (309) 762-5433. n Community Health Care Regional Virology Center, 1351 W. Central Park Ave., Suite 360, Davenport. (563) 421-4244. n Edgerton Women’s Health Center, 1510 E. Rusholme St., Davenport. (563) 359-6633. n Rock Island County Health Department, 2112 25th Ave., Rock Island. (309) 793-1955. n Scott County Health Department, 600 W. 4th St., fourth floor, Davenport. (563) 326-8618. Texts for tests In the United States, about 1 million people live with HIV/AIDS, and approximately 25 percent of them are unaware of either their status or their increased risk of infecting others. The Kaiser Family Foundation has partnered with government agencies to begin a text-messaging program to help people identify nearby HIV test locations. Many of them offer free and anonymous services. Mobile telephone users should send a text message along with their ZIP code to “KNOWIT,” or 566948. That connects users with a test locations database on the Web site BY THE NUMBERS The Quad-Cities virology clinic treats about 300 patients with HIV/AIDS. Here is a statistical breakdown of those patients: Age/number/percentage 0-12 (1) 0.4% 13-24 (7) 2.5% 25-44 (153) 54.6% 45-64 (113) 40.4% 65-plus (6) 2.1% Payment methods Medicaid (34) 12.1% Medicare (42) 15% No insurance (103) 36.8% Private insurance (101) 36.1% Transmission mode Perinatal, or born with HIV (1) 0.4% Heterosexual (92) 32.9% Men who have sex with men (156) 55.7% Men who have sex with men and are intravenous drug users (19) 6.8% Other (2) 0.6% (no identified risk) Race and ethnicity Black (53) 18.9% White (211) 75% Hispanic (14) 5% Pacific Islander (1) Other (1) Gender Women (67) 24% Men (212) 76% Transgender (1) — Source: Community Health Care Regional Virology Center


Anonymous said...

This article is poorly written."It used to be that a person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS had received an automatic death sentence." We all receive a death sentence from the day we are born. Some die earlier, some later. HIV/AIDS as a death sentence isn't a stigma as much as it is a condition of better health care. We have better health care facilities and more knowledge of the disease than we did in 1981."It used to be that some doctors and nurses faced with a HIV/AIDS patient would run away in horror." Prove that there are absolutely no doctors or nurses today that when faced with an HIV/AIDS patient run away in horror. You can't. There is no way."It used to be -and still is -that a social stigma was attached to the affliction most associated with being gay..." What? Of course, I am not denying that HIV/AIDS patients have been or still are unfairly stereotyped as gay, but according to this article the fluky, vague, statistics provided do not support the "journalist"s' position. Maybe the "journalist" needs to go back to college and take some "math" classes.

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