On World AIDS Day, the focus is on ending stigma and education
Great strides have been made in the fight against HIV and AIDS across the globe, but there’s still plenty of work to be done right here at home.
That was one of the key takeaways from a breakfast hosted by Equality Florida in commemoration of World AIDS Day. The event, held virtually Tuesday morning, featured an update on the progress that’s been made on HIV education, advocacy and accommodations along with Equality Florida’s goals for the future and a discussion on mental health and wellness for people living with HIV.
According to Alejandro Acosta, the nonprofit’s HIV Advocacy Coordinator, Florida leads the nation in HIV transmissions with about 4,500 people each year being diagnosed, and that number needs to change.
“We don’t want to be in the No. 1 spot,” Acosta said.
With the emergence of Covid-19, the conversation about HIV has been reignited and is reflected in the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day, Resilience and Impact. Equality Florida is aiming for impact and progress in two main areas, the first of which is educating lawmakers on HIV and AIDS with the goal of changing outdated laws that unfairly target people with the disease.
“You’d be surprised at how little our lawmakers know about HIV, and as you have seen with Covid 19, health decisions are made by our governor and politicians who may not necessarily be health professionals,” Acosta said, noting that this past year, Equality Florida brought 28 people living with HIV – including 18 transgender women of color – to lobby in Tallahassee. “A lot of these lawmakers have never met anyone living with HIV.”
The nonprofit’s second focus area is ending the stigma around the disease, which still plagues many communities.
“We can’t end HIV transmission without ending stigma,” said Acosta, who has been living with HIV since the early 2000s. “It seeps into every corner of the world, even within the LGBTQ community.”
Though the pandemic has slowed down some of Equality Florida’s efforts, Acosta said the nonprofit continues to do educational outreach with medical students and community members to help them understand the disease better. While he acknowledged that HIV is “not a sexy topic” and it’s something many people still avoid talking about, he’s hopeful that encouraging community members to have open conversations on topics such as sex and the importance of getting tested can lead to greater awareness and acceptance. People should also not be afraid to talk about others who have HIV, who can now have the same life expectancy of those who aren’t infected.
“I’m proof that living with HIV is really not the end of the world,” he said.
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