Why I Work in HIV

By jschneidewind on June 30, 2011 in AIDS at 30

This entry is part of a new blog series about the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic in America.  Submissions are invited from all AIDS United stakeholders, including Community Partnerships (and their grantee organizations), grantees, funders, Trustees, staff, advocates, Facebook and Twitter friends and followers, and anyone who has been impacted by HIV/AIDS who reads this blog.  For submission guidelines, email communications@aidsunited.org

by Lauren Fayish, Program Associate

I wasn’t here for the early days of the epidemic. I didn’t lose a loved one to this disease and I never had any personal connection to this cause growing up. But after serving as an AmeriCorps member in the field of HIV/AIDS, I came to realize that my values were so strongly aligned with the fight to end the HIV epidemic that I now consider this work to be a deeply persona

l endeavor, and as I have come to learn, one which benefits all of us regardless of our HIV status.

For me, the prevalence of HIV in the United States has shined a light on the injustices and the inequalities that lurk beneath the surface of our society. From a place of privilege, one never needs to acknowledge the disparities in our communities. An us against them mentality can make it easier to turn a blind eye to the shifting epidemic.  But when I look at the pattern of new infections and see how and where HIV is spreading, these injustices become clear. Not only is the epidemic in the U.S. highly concentrated in certain populations (men who have sex with men, communities of color), but in 2010, the CDC reported a clear link between HIV infection and poverty. A survey of 9,000 individuals living in high-poverty areas of 23 U.S. cities reported a HIV prevalence nearly 20 times the rate of HIV in the generalized heterosexual population in the U.S.. From my experience working in this field, it is clear that disparities in wealth, educational opportunities, social status, and access to medical care contribute to the spread of HIV. As a member of this community and this country, I find these realities unacceptable.
Despite the social injustices that the HIV epidemic has brought to my attention, I am grateful for the fact that this disease forces us to see our country at its worst and to strive to make it better.  HIV/AIDS requires us to address our inequalities. As a result of our efforts to stop the spread of the virus and to care for those infected, we have created solutions that make our society stronger and more equal.

  • Advocacy work in the field of HIV/AIDS has forged successful models for grassroots organizing which remind us that devoted citizens still have the power to make change in this country.  Advocates have been able overturn a ban on using federal funds for syringe exchange, remove the antiquated practice of denying HIV-positive individuals entrance into the U.S., and ensure that scientifically accurate sex-education is available in public schools.
  • Caring for those with HIV has led to the creation of holistic models of health care that are more patient-centered. HIV case management and the system of Ryan White clinics in the U.S. demonstrate the type of medical infrastructure that our country must consider as we move towards a medical home based health care model. Even now, as we work to improve access to care for PLWHA, we are informing policy-makers on how to improve the accessibility and utilization of health care for people managing chronic diseases and multiple health care needs.
  • Scientific research related to HIV/AIDS has led to advancements that translate beyond this field.  Prevention science has benefited from the interventions that have been developed to stop the spread of HIV. The devastating impacts of stigma on disease prevention, care and treatment are better understood.  And, the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention and treatment investments lends credence to the need to transition our health care system from one that treats disease to one that prevents disease.

These advancements, among many others, exemplify how the tireless work to combat HIV/AIDS during the past 30 years has contributed to the well-being of the country that we all share.

In this field, our values of justice and equality have coalesced into a force that has won many battles, even if a cure still eludes us. The suffering and loss that this disease has inflicted on the world will never be erased, but we should not overlook the legacy of progress that has resulted from our 30 year battle against this epidemic. Although I wasn’t around for the start of this work, I am privileged to honor those who have lost their lives to the virus by carrying this work forward for the betterment of us all.

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