Saoirse Cavanaugh is blunt with her story. “I had a condom mishap.”
It’s an experience that many people may have dealt with. And in that moment, it might be time to stop and realize the potential of immediate health issue exists that needs to be addressed, and that it’s time to start taking things seriously. In many ways, that wakeup call mirrors the experience Washington State is taking to get serious about ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“We have a governor who has said it is time to end AIDS and to work towards that, so he has challenged all of us in this state to make that a reality,” explains Dr John Wiesman, Washington State Secretary of Health “This is the time for us as leaders to step up.” The state has set a goal of reducing new HIV infections by 50% by the year 2020.
Dr Wiesman shared the virtual stage with eight community advocates from around the state in a new video walking people through the steps Washington is taking to answer that challenge. It revolves around four calls to action, and it begins with getting Washington residents signed up for health insurance.
It’s estimated that 89% of Washington residents have health insurance, which provides free or low cost access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment. In addition, having general health care needs taken care of puts someone in a much better situation to address HIV related healthcare needs. “If you have a healthcare provider that really works with you and understands who you are as a person,” says Lorenzo Cervantes, Prevention Director at Pierce County AIDS Foundation, “you have higher health outcomes as well.”
Another important step is helping people get tested for HIV. In Washington 92% of people living with HIV know their status. Knowing your status, whether positive or negative, empowers you to take control of your own health. Whether you think you might be positive or think you are probably negative, “You should still go and get the test.” Terry Jones a Peer at Seattle Counseling Service’s Project Neon points out, “Because either way you’re going to come out a winner, because either you get the care that you need or you’re going to find out that you don’t need it at all.”
PrEP is a daily medication that can reduce the risk of HIV by as much as 92%. Washington State has a drug assistance program that can help cover the costs of PrEP. Joanne Stekler is an Associate Professor with the Division of Infectious Diseases at Harborview Medical Center. “Getting more providers who are comfortable having those conversations is important,” she says. She also emphasizes the importance of letting people know that PrEP is an options. “Increase awareness among patients who are interested in prep and increasing their awareness of where they can access PrEP.”
With new advancements in HIV treatment, we now know that making sure people living with HIV have effective access to treatment can not only improve their lives but also be a powerful prevention strategy. “If a person is 100% adherent to their antiretroviral regiment, then the chances of transmitting the virus to someone else is reduced by over 97%” explains Paris Mullen, former Gay City Program Manager. He adds, “We know how to stop transmission of this virus through medication.”
Those are the four calls to action Washington State expects will make the difference in the fight against AIDS: Get Insurance. Get Tested. Get PrEP. Get Treatment.
For her part, after her condom mishap, Saoirse reached out to the community for help and was connected to medication to protect her from contracting HIV. After completing that regimen, she shares “I continued on with just a Truvada once a day [as PrEP] and I’ve had no side effects at all.”