Updated: Feb 25
Started in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health holiday. Observed on December 1, World AIDS Day is an opportunity to commemorate those we lost, support people living with H.I.V., and unite to fight the ongoing battle against H.I.V.
With COVID-19 continuing to impact everyday life for people across the globe, it is hard not to draw parallels between the current pandemic and the one that has affected millions of people worldwide. Medically, H.I.V. and COVID-19 are drastically different. Although the stigma related to H.I.V. and AIDS is virtually absent today, there are still major similarities between cultural responses to H.I.V. and COVID-19. Our history doesn’t always paint a pretty picture, but an informative one nonetheless.
A consistent theme among those who experienced H.I.V. in the early days was isolation and loneliness. This is ever more prominent today with public health professionals recommending social isolation for those with a heightened risk of getting sick. Older adults, people with disabilities, and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk of what Vox called “a loneliness epidemic.”
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid complete isolation and combat loneliness. If you or someone you know needs to talk, call us at 720-731-4689.
When AIDS first landed at America’s doorstep in the early 1980s, fear and hysteria seemed to spread as fast as the virus itself. Stigma immediately began to plague those who were most at-risk. Initially, the virus was coined “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID).” Naturally, this conflated the virus with the LGBTQIA+ community, leaving people vulnerable to a myriad of stigmatization. Such misconception deterred people from seeking treatment and fueled discrimination amongst providers for the better part of a decade.
This kind of extreme stigma, albeit all too familiar to those who lived through the early years of H.I.V./AIDS, can be seen today. A simple online search of COVID-19 stigmas presents a stark reality of fear-driven responses to COVID-19. The Japan Times reported that “landlords evict people from their homes, nurses are abandoned by their husbands and people are spurned just on suspicion of coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient.”
The World Health Organization went as far as deliberately naming the virus COVID-19 to avoid conflation with a location of origin, to no avail. Referrals to it as the “Chinese” and “Wuhan” virus unfortunately persist. Stigma operates across all facets of life, from social-economical to racial. Disease attribution remains a human response, but one that is harmful by nature.
Fear is no excuse for bigotry. If we have learned anything from the national response to the AIDS pandemic, it is that blame simply exacerbates hysteria and stigma. If we are to overcome the current pandemic, we must unite in a way that absolves blame, promotes the facts, and destigmatizes the virus itself. In turn, communities will only be stronger and better equipped to recover from the impacts of COVID-19
Those living with H.I.V. who are not taking antiretroviral treatment have a generally increased risk of infections and related complications. Right now, it’s vital for individuals to get tested for H.I.V. if exposure is suspected. At present, there is no evidence that the risk of infection or complications of COVID-19 is higher among people living with H.I.V. who are clinically and immunologically stable on antiretroviral treatment. It’s also important to remember that people living with H.I.V. on effective treatment cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Testing and treatment are not only to protect individual health but an important factor in preventing the spread. To find your local testing center, you can visit hiv.gov.
World AIDS Day and AIDS Awareness Month is a time to promote prevention, testing, and treatment. To get involved, you can visit the CDC website for an abundance of resources and campaigns. People with H.I.V. may have concerns and questions related to the physical and mental health-related risks from COVID-19. You can visit the CDC website here for more information on H.I.V. and COVID-19.
As always, Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit team is here for you. Offering free and confidential support, we can help you with counseling tips and strategies to cope successfully and referrals to additional mental health resources. Call us if you need to talk at 720-731-4689.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call 1-844-493-8255 or visit our 24/7 crisis walk-in center at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.