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AR Program Makes HIV Care, Medication More Accessible

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Thursday, December 1, 2022   

Today is World AIDS Day, observed internationally to remember those lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and raise awareness about the disease.

Health professionals are working in Arkansas to ensure people living with HIV have the services they need.

Dr. Laura Cheever, associate administrator of the HIV/AIDS Bureau in the Health Resources and Services Administration, said the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is a comprehensive system of primary care and support services for people living with HIV, including transportation to get medical care. Visitors to the website can enter their ZIP code to find free or low-cost care in their area.

She pointed out the services make a big difference.

"In Arkansas, 87.7% of people in the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program were virally suppressed," Cheever reported.

She explained viral suppression means when a person with HIV takes medication regularly, allowing them to live a long and healthy life, with effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner.

The latest figures, from 2020, indicate about 6,000 people live with HIV in Arkansas, and 242 people were newly diagnosed. Cheever noted the Health Resources and Services Administration has health-center programs to provide free or low-cost care, and access to HIV testing and medication.

"We are increasing our access to pre-exposure prophylaxis," Cheever emphasized. "Which means for someone that tests negative for HIV and is high risk of acquiring it, they can start on either one pill once a day, or an injectable form of medication they get every two months, to help prevent HIV infection."

Cheever acknowledged some negative attitudes and beliefs still surround an HIV diagnosis. She believes stigma and discrimination are the reasons it is still an epidemic in the United States.

"HIV is increasingly in minority communities," Cheever observed. "The fact that we have still in this country quite a bit of structural racism, in addition to problems with homophobia, since it's more common in gay communities, and just the stigma about HIV, combine together to limit people's access."


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