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Testing and Treatment: Keys to Ending AIDS Epidemic


Thursday, December 1, 2016   

DES MOINES, Iowa -- This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first detection of HIV. And while research has changed outcomes for those living with the virus, experts say there's much more work to do.

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual observance to support people living with HIV, remember those who have died from the virus and encourage others to get tested. And the sooner someone knows they have the virus, the sooner they can get treatment, said Tami Haught, president of the HIV advocacy organization PITCH. She said that, thanks to medical advancements, an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was.

"If somebody is on their medication and has had a suppressed viral load for over six months and continues to stay medically adherent, they cannot transmit HIV,” Haught explained. "Undetectable equals un-transmittable, which is fantastic and is the key to ending the epidemic."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 1.2 million Americans are infected with HIV, but one-in-eight do not know it. In Iowa, the most recent figures from 2013 said nearly 2,000 people are living with HIV, including 127 who were newly diagnosed.

The Affordable Care Act extended non-discrimination protections to people living with HIV. Haught said her group is concerned about talk in Washington, D.C. of repealing or changing the program that has changed so many lives - including hers.

"I've actually been able to have an insurance policy and be able to access insurance. It has been a lifesaver for me,” she said. "I can actually go to a doctor five minutes from home, rather than having to travel five hours round-trip."

Haught was diagnosed with HIV over two decades ago, and she said her life expectancy is now close to the average for someone living without the virus.

Around Iowa, community programs and service providers are able to connect people to HIV testing sites, treatment providers, support groups and other resources.

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