A Gift From God
The mix of science and religion had been a difficult subject of discussion for generations. With HIV it is simple. The breakthroughs and changes (that seem to come every few months) are part and parcel of God’s creation. The physicians who care for and the medications that make it impossible to spread the virus, are from His medicine chest. At Samaritan Ministry we embrace science as part of his intervention in our world, especially in the face of uncertainty and suffering. So, what does science teach us that we can apply today?
It’s not AIDS Anymore
We used to talk about HIV/AIDS and many organizations have used the AIDS acronym in their name, such as AIDS United in D.C., and National Minority AIDS Council (which dropped their long name and went with NMAC as a name a couple of years ago). But times have changed and medications today make it possible, even likely, that a person diagnosed with HIV today may never get AIDS. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has even changed its web address from AIDS.gov to HIV.gov. Go ahead try AIDS.gov and watch the logo in the upper left change. It’s cool, and it speaks to the “long term chronic disease” nature of HIV disease today. Yup… its not AIDS any more.
This moniker has really made the rounds in the HIV world since the International AIDS Conference. Undetectable = Untransmittable is the science based and universally accepted fact that treatment, when done properly, can make HIV untransmittable. The CDC in a “Dear Colleague” letter dated September 27, 2017 states, “ When ART (antiretroviral therapy) results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission.” This news, along with scientific study and sign-on by all of the world’s respected groups, is the leading edge in the fight against this epidemic, and one of the chief reasons we are willing to talk about an END to this epidemic.
PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis
PrEP is the use of a drug combo, called Truvada, to prevent the spread off HIV from someone who is living with HIV to an uninfected partner. This daily medication (not a day-before or morning-after pill) has had spectacular results in several studies reducing the transmission rate from between 96% and 99% We are happy to see that the up-take and acceptance of PrEP in the United States is improving. This is an amazing HIV prevention strategy. Find out more about PrEP. You can find a PrEP provider here.
Between 1991 and 1997, the U.S. Government funded seven reports on clean needle programs for persons who inject drugs. The reports are unanimous in their conclusions that clean needle programs reduce HIV transmission, and none found that clean needle programs caused rates of drug use to increase. AIDS United publishes information about the effectiveness of Syringe Exchange Programs (SEP).
We are excited to be a part of this changing landscape in the fight against the opioid epidemic. We believe that Syringe Exchange is an important tool in this fight and we are partnering with two East Tennessee organizations to make SEP a reality in Tennessee. We recognize that there are 42 counties, most of which are in East Tennessee, that have been identified as “vulnerable” to an HIV outbreak. This connection between IV drug use and HIV infection is getting the attention of many in the public health field and is why we are paying attention. Here is a list of other ways we are engaged:
Training – Samaritan Ministry is committed to covering basic opioid abuse and Hepatitis C (HCV) education with EVERY HIV presentation. Wayne is one of the official Tennessee Department of Health HCV trainers.
Testing – During 2016 and 2017, we conducted over 500 HCV tests anually, working in cooperation with our testing partner, Helen Ross McNabb Center. Our overall positivity rate is 37%. We are at pace to equal or exceed those numbers in 2018.