Together, Lane County Can Bring Care to All HIV Patients

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Diane Lang and Robert Burk

World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 provides an opportunity for all of us - individuals, communities and political leaders - to take action toward achieving local and global goals for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.

Today, according to UNAIDS estimates, 33.2 million people worldwide live with HIV, including 2.5 million children. In 2007, 2.5 million people became newly infected with the virus. Globally, AIDS remains the leading cause of mortality among women of reproductive age. Forty-five percent of all new infections worldwide occur in young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Here in Oregon, we continue to see a rise in new HIV infections. Nearly 5,000 people are living with HIV. What's more, an estimated 21 percent of people who are HIV-positive do not know their status and unwittingly cause 75 percent of new infections. For every three people who become newly infected, another Oregonian dies.

This World AIDS Day, we turn our focus locally to the international theme of "Universal Access and Human Rights."

The emergence of the AIDS epidemic demonstrated the relevance of equity and universal access in a substantial way. When the HIV Alliance formed 15 years ago, our clients were choosing between uncertain and debilitating drug treatments - if they could afford them - or no treatment and likely death. The ability to gain access to medication and care was - and continues to be - the equivalent to survival for many millions of people worldwide.

Poverty is one of the most significant barriers to equitable access to services. Here in Oregon, one third of people living with HIV do not receive regular medical care. Staying healthy is more than just having access to medication: It's about staying warm and dry, having enough to eat and having a life and surroundings stable enough to follow a complicated, unforgiving treatment regime. This is why the HIV Alliance is a leader in the coordination of care for all these basic needs.

Stigma and discrimination are equally formidable obstacles to HIV care and prevention. Too many people choose to risk their own health and the lives of others rather than face the stigma of taking an HIV test, much less the discrimination that comes with a positive result. …