Michael Barret Jones, Director of Development
Undetectable = Untransmittable. PrEP. Treatment as Prevention.
We are on the cusp of something big here: in the last few years, tremendous strides have been made and technologies unleashed that can help prevent transmission of the HIV virus between sero-discordant partners, and that's amazing.
If we can control new infections, we're on our way to ending the epidemic, right?
Well, yes and no. Epidemiologists might say yes, that if you can contain the virus and keep it from spreading, that the epidemic is over. If you are undetectable, science has demonstrated over and over again that you cannot pass the virus onto a partner. If you are on PrEP (a once daily pill that acts as a pre-exposure prophylaxis), an invading virus can't get a toe-hold and dies trying, leaving one uninfected. These are both great advances, and will truly help save lives, ease fears and anxieties, and reduce stigma. (The CDC and Iris House still recommend condom use along with TASP and PrEP.)
At Iris House, approximately 80% of our HIV+ clients have been declared "undetectable." New York City and New York State are both at 67% undetectable. This is great news: we have an above average rate of clients managing their treatment plans, staying adherent to their prescriptions and working to improve their overall health. Yet, our work, and the need for support programs, is desperately needed.
We have three challenges here: two that stand in the way of ending the epidemic and one which will continue even after we declare the war over.
1) "Undetectable" is aspirational, but not obtainable for everyone. Some people with HIV are resistant to certain classes of drugs. Some need help facing mental health or addiction issues that interfere with their ability to remain treatment adherent. Some face such tremendous stigma in their homes, families, churches and communities that they don't seek treatment, even when they know they are HIV+. These aren't people to judge or to pity, these are people for whom repeated contacts, followups, assistance, outreach and compassion are required. If they can't reach "undetectable," then the epidemic isn't truly over.
2) A Need for a Cure. Say everyone living with HIV is undetectable. They might get a cold, or have an illness or infection that challenges their body's immune system: bam! a weakened immune system can lead to a temporary rise of the viral load back in to the detectable status. At that point, it is transmissible, and is able to cause damage to the body in other ways and open it up to opportunistic infections. As long as there are still live viruses, detectable or not, there's always a chance for them to bounce back.
3) Support for Long Term Survivors. Individuals who have been living with the virus and its impact on their body, mind and finances for a decade or more, face even greater challenges. They may have been out of the workforce, they may have physical ailments which can never be overcome, they may still be living with PTSD from their initial diagnosis, or depending on how long they've been living with HIV, from having seen too many loved ones fall along the way. Even with "Undetectable" and the possibility of a cure, long term survivors may continue to need support services for the rest of their lives. Mental health, substance abuse, physical challenges: these don't go away with medication and require individually tailored therapies. Functional job training, confidence building and opportunities in the job market (for those who are able) are also crucial, as well as incentives for employers hiring people who have been out of the workforce for decades.
Until this epidemic is over for all of us, it isn't over for any of us.
In the meantime, we need to make sure people know how to prevent transmission, how to take care of themselves, and how to rebuild their lives after decades spent literally at war.
At Iris House, we're here for them. Are you?
We often talk about how Iris House's prevention and outreach teams are out and about: in 2016, we delivered high-touch HIV101 and Prevention Interventions to nearly 700 people and provided 2200 individuals with HIV, Hepatitis C and STI testing. But that doesn't even come close to counting the thousands of people we interact with in health fairs, street fairs and other events.
June is a particularly busy month in the field for Iris House, and our teams appeared in full purple and orange at Queens Pride, Brooklyn Pride, the Bronx Borough President's Pride Celebration, NYC's Pride March, NYC Pride Fest, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Folsom Street East. Special mention to our team members Antionettea Etienne and Leroy S., whose presence in any Pride Celebration brings cheers of welcome and recognition -- for both them and Iris House!
This year, we were especially delighted to be selected this year as beneficiaries of not only Folsom Street East, but also of a pre-FSE party thrown by the Bully Boyz at the New York Eagle.
Iris House's team is working to End the Epidemic! Like us to join you at your health fair or event? Contact Ken at (646) 548-0100 x303. Like to table with us on September 16 (in NJ) or September 30 (in NYC) for our own Community Health Fair? Contact Michael at (646) 548-0100 x222.
For the community, in the community, of the community: it’s been an exciting spring at Iris House and you’ve probably been around to see some of it! In addition to the new outreach programs you’ve read about on page one, May was a flurry of activity, and we are exhausted (in a great way!)
On May 1st, we had our 8th collaborative fundraiser with celebrity stylist Christo, of Christo Fifth Avenue and Curlisto. He’s been an amazing supporter of ours for over a decade, and we are deeply grateful to him for his ongoing support. This year we tried something new and ventured to a rooftop event space in midtown, The Attic! With friends from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington DC in attendance, we got to celebrate the beginning of our 25th Anniversary Year. It’s hard to believe, but Iris House began its life in 1992 and began delivering services to the East Harlem community in 1993. We will be commemorating our Anniversary with a special project next Spring: be sure to watch out for it!
On Monday, May 8th, we produced the 12th annual Women as the Face of AIDS Summit, and this year with the theme “Resilient, Fierce and Wise,” we offered a challenge to our community to come together in strength and wisdom, stand up for themselves and help advocate for each other. We are all concerned about Ending the Epidemic, and the news from our
Federal Government gets grimmer and grimmer each week. One of our lessons is that we need to come together as a single community: people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions and our allies, families and friends and fight for our needs. We all have to rally together, to stand and protest, to call our representatives and to make our voices heard. We hope this year’s Summit brought some inspiration to you. Though we had to postpone our May 13th Health Fair (to September 30, join us then!), we were out on the route at AIDS Walk New York (and breaking our team’s record with over $14,000 raised!)
We continue to sit on and take leadership roles in NY State End the Epidemic workgroups and the New Jersey HIV Planning Group to ensure that our voices — and in particular the voices of women of color — are actively part of the conversations.
As I write this, we’re into June, which is Pride Month here in NYC and our prevention and outreach teams will be all over the City helping people to know their status, get connected to care and have greater independence over their lives!
Ingrid Floyd, Executive Director
Post by Guest Blogger Anne Forbes