Work to improve health, end stigma

Thank you for publishing the article highlighting the draft guidelines proposed by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force for HIV screening to be part of a routine health check-up! (Nov. 19, “New push for most in U.S. to get HIV test.”)

I celebrate the efforts and hope that such protocol for routine or emergent health care will come to fruition. Such action is not only crucial for the potential treatment of individuals determined to have the HIV virus, but too for the prevention of further transmission and the reduction of stigma.

It is estimated that 1 out of every 5 Americans is not aware of their HIV positive status.

I know in my personal life, I would have been among the 20 percent not realizing their HIV positive status, if not for Peace Corps’ protocol for a thorough medical examination upon my completion of volunteer service. I did not suspect myself to have the HIV virus as I did not fit what I perceived to be the at-risk groups. Without knowing my status, I could have unknowingly placed another individual at risk.

If adopted, the proposed guidelines for HIV screening can change the tide of HIV/AIDS disease in our country. We can see a day when the HIV virus is contained.

I hold optimism too on how the proposed guidelines can impact stigma. Stigma is about the fallacy of an “us versus them.” Implementing a medical protocol wherein HIV screening is routine can break the emotional, psychological, and social threads that create stigma. Such proposed guidelines will normalize the need for HIV testing as is in place for cholesterol testing or diabetes testing.

As a woman living with HIV/AIDS for nearly 20 years, this is powerful for me. Stigma exists toward being HIV-positive due to its relation to what is perceived as the individual’s behavioral choice that was taboo, rather than keeping the focus on healthy versus unhealthy choices. Thus, stigma toward the HIV disease proceeds to perceive the individual as somehow deserving. Normalizing the test and normalizing the related discussion necessary for the test are essential steps for the end of stigma. It can bring the focus on healthy versus unhealthy choices, rather than an imposition of values that fuels stigma.

There is no stigma toward individuals living with diabetes, despite the fact that often the diabetes disease relates to unhealthy choices. There is no stigma towards individuals living with heart disease, despite the fact that often heart disease relates to unhealthy choices. There is no stigma towards individuals battling cancer, though at times this dreadful disease relates to unhealthy choices. And there ought not be stigma towards individuals with these diseases, nor to a person living with HIV disease.

World AIDS Day is coming up on Saturday. It is a time to honor those living with or impacted by HIV/AIDS, and to raise awareness for the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Our local event is Friday at the Snohomish County Health District. There will be free HIV testing, a health fair, speakers, and music to recognize the importance of the day.

Jeannine Fosca

Lake Stevens