HIV Prevention Gap: Social stigma scares people from STD screening

Georgia State student, Jacob Aberle, wants students to get tested and not think of about the fear or judgement behind it.  Photo by Christina Maxouris | The Signal
Georgia State student, Jacob Aberle, wants students to get tested and to not think of about the fear or judgement behind it.
Photo by Christina Maxouris | The Signal

HIV has been declared a “public health emergency” in the South by the federal government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named 16 red-zone states, which include the District of Columbia and Georgia.

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Patrick Sullivan from Emory University said that the South is under threat, because it is home to the people with the lowest incomes, according the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. With Southern conservative leaders refusing to expand Medicaid, getting treatment is often not viable for those who cannot afford it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the South ranks first in the nation for its rate of new HIV cases. The federal AIDS website has attributed this fact to the lack of prevention and testing.

Lack of Knowledge

Jacob Aberle, a Georgia State student, said the lack of information and general knowledge of HIV, how it is transmitted and how to protect yourself is reminiscent of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

“I desire to live in a world where I can have a real relationship with somebody I love even if he is HIV positive and I am not.” Aberle said.

Nationwide, one in eight people infected with HIV do not know they have the virus, according to AIDS.gov.

A new organization called Decent Exposure is emerging in Georgia State to promote student health in the university, and the city of Atlanta. In collaboration with the clinic, the organization helps students gain access to confidential HIV testing.

Decent Exposure said, “We believe that the rise in HIV is related to people being misinformed of its concentration in their community. There is an assumption around STI’s that people will form stereotypes, and they will determine whether they are being safe or not without consulting a professional.”

Prevention Methods

One of the most effective ways to prevent HIV is to get tested regularly, no matter what sex habits one has. Decent Exposure said the HIV virus is no longer a problem only for the homosexual community, and that it is spreading to younger age groups as well.

One form of preventive medication is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which boosts the immune system of sexually active individuals, so it can fight off any incoming infection. For the medication to be effective, they need to be taken on a very precise schedule, with no dose ever missed.

As a sexually active man, Aberle said he practices safe sex habits to eliminate his chances of contracting HIV. He said even though PrEP protects against HIV infection, it does not replace the effectiveness of using condoms as protection against STDs and STIs.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) exists for those who have already come in contact with the virus, and it works to enhance their immune system, according to the CDC.

The most common HIV treatment, as shown in government research, is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), which usually includes more than one medicine and helps slow the multiplication of the HIV virus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), out of the 36.9 million people living with HIV, about 15 million are receiving ART and living longer and in better health.

Prevention in Atlanta

Besides prevention, Atlanta residents can visit certain centers specializing in HIV testing and prevention in order to get confidentially tested for HIV. Positive Impact is an organization in Atlanta which provides testing, prevention and support services. AID Atlanta, another testing and prevention center, is the largest AIDS organization in the South.

Along with these organizations, Decent Exposure is reaching out to students of Georgia State about the importance of getting checked. Their findings suggest between the ages of 18-22, twice as many females than males get tested for HIV.

The Georgia State University clinic is also making an effort at providing HIV testing and counseling. Decent Exposure said the tests include a urine and blood test, and the results take 1-2 days for deliverance.

Diagnosis and prevention organizations exist for all age groups, but college students are the most vulnerable due to their activities.  The federal AIDS page found that one in four new HIV cases are between the ages of 13-24.

Aberle said he thinks many infected young people avoid getting tested due to the social stigma around HIV.

“People need to be able to talk about what they consider to be “safe” and okay within their sex lives without fear of judgement from others, especially potential lovers,” he said.

Decent Exposure said we believe students should not be berated for their sex-lives, but the clinic should be a responsible part of students’ sex-lives.

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