Robertson Somuah, Special to the Daily Republic
Dec 1 is World AIDS Day. It is an opportunity for people to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS and show their support for people living with HIV and AIDS, and to commemorate those we have lost in this global epidemic.
This year’s theme, “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility,” like the years prior, focuses on how teamwork and solidarity can stem the tide of the global spread of HIV.
The advancements that the global community has made in preventing and treating HIV is something to be proud of. The year’s theme also focuses on the work we need to continue doing, considering the stalling downward trend of HIV infections. An estimated 1.8 million adults have become infected with HIV every year for the past five years. HIV Prevention efforts must be evaluated and improved to help identify HIV-positive individuals early, link them to medical care and supportive services, and decrease the spread of HIV in our communities.
One of the biggest successes HIV programs worldwide has had is with a pill, when taken, can prevent a person from getting HIV. This medication is called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP for short. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent HIV infection. The drug (brand name Truvada) contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.
When taken daily, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken consistently. As PrEP only protects against HIV, condoms are essential for the protection against other STDs. Proper use of condoms is also an important prevention strategy if PrEP is not taken consistently.
Communities contribute to the HIV/AIDS response in many ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the answer remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the center and leaving no one behind. Communities include peer educators, networks of people living with or affected by HIV, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, women and young people, counselors, community health workers, door-to-door service providers, civil society organizations and grass-roots activists.
World AIDS Day offers an important platform to highlight the role of communities at a time when reduced funding and 2020’s global pandemic limits access to HIV testing in many locations throughout the world. Local community organizations such as Solano Pride Center, Mercury Pharmacy, Community Medical Centers, and Solano AIDS coalition have stepped up to be a beacon of light to help some of the most vulnerable and underrepresented in our community to access some of these lifesaving services. Solidarity and Shared responsibility are how we will rid the world of this global Epidemic.
Robertson Somuah is a Senior Health Education Specialist from Communicable Disease Program/Bureau in Solano Public Health.