HIV and AIDS: Health Services, Stigma and Decriminalization

Tennessee is one of the nine states in the South that now have the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.  There are also an increasing number of women being diagnosed with HIV, but women are underrepresented in clinical trials and there are huge barriers to treatment. 

Because of financial and social factors, low-income people, people of color and women often receive HIV-positive test results later in the course of the disease and treatment can be difficult to obtain.  Anti-HIV drugs are costly and without paid leave people struggle to take the time to see doctors and manage the disease.  We need to look at how to make drug protocols more manageable, affordable and available as well as to look at the ways that programs aimed at prevention are not meeting the needs or connecting with many marginalized communities. 

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Healthy and Free Tennessee knows that integration of reproductive health services with HIV care is an essential step in reducing both the spread of HIV and the stigmatization of those living with HIV. Tennesseans living with HIV have the right to sexual and reproductive health resources and support regarding pregnancy prevention and planning, fertility assistance, STI testing and treatment, prenatal and abortion care.  In addition, partners of Tennesseans living with HIV need education, counseling, resources, and access to testing as well as information about safer sex, and Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

Normalization of HIV testing by primary care providers for all Tennesseans as recommended by the CDC is also part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. The integration of HIV care and prevention and reproductive health care is recognized internationally as the most effective way to provide comprehensive reproductive health care for persons living with HIV and prevent new infections.

In addition to addressing issues with testing and treatment, we need to look at ways to modernize laws dealing with exposure or status that treat people with HIV like criminals.  There are presently 32 states, including Tennessee that have criminal laws that punish people for exposing another person to HIV, even in the absence of actual HIV transmission or even a meaningful risk that transmission could occur.

We must eliminate stigma and create strong, integrated health systems to ensure that people living with and those who are vulnerable to HIV infection receive high quality services for sexual and reproductive health.  People affected by HIV and AIDS should also be included in the creation of medical standards and protocols. 

To learn more about how to help in our efforts to meet the needs and honor the voices of people living with HIV and AIDS, follow HFTN on Facebook and Twitter (@HealthyFreeTN) and make sure that you sign up to receive our e-mails to stay updated.  

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