HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, shook the world since the epidemic began in the early 1980’s. As the AIDS crisis heightened, negative attitudes followed the rapid infection rates and climbing numbers of deaths, its impact immeasurable on the queer community specifically. During a time when prejudice towards LGBTQIA+ was prevalent, AIDS became an additional excuse to vilify gay men. Neglect and misinformation would lead to higher HIV-related morbidity and mortalities.
While little was known about the virus, the media’s portrayal of HIV as a “gay plague” led to discrimination, isolating those struggling to survive a little-known sexually transmitted infection. Lack of leadership from officials put the onus of education and awareness on the queer community. Maintaining an apathetic distance, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary Larry Speakes joked about AIDS. Members of the media claimed the virus could be transmitted through saliva or food handling while the press laughed in the background. In a retrospective by The Atlantic, US President Ronald Reagan wouldn’t acknowledge AIDs until 1985 and Nancy Reagan didn’t speak on the growing epidemic until 1987 after over 20,000 people had died.
Misinformation was not only a disservice to the population who deserved accurate information and respectfully reported developments. The media’s “us vs. them” attitude slowed medical funding and proper medical care for an already alienated queer community. Research pioneers underwent a tireless journey with little financial backing. From very little U.S. federal research funding in 1982, scientists pushed through, learning as much as they could about how the human body processed HIV as the effects of the advanced stages of HIV and AIDS varied from patient to patient.
40 years later, diligent work towards the creation of a vaccine continues today. The developments of antiretroviral medications have helped people with HIV live longer, more fulfilling lives. Medications like PrEP reduce the risk of sexual transmission by 99%, a revolutionary advancement in preventing HIV. Previous HIV research related to the role of CD4 T cells have led to important insights about other conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Health care for patients living with HIV has come a long way since the early 1980’s, but the stigma and shame surrounding the virus still needs much improvement.
July 21 is Zero HIV Stigma Day, a global observance that aims to end negative attitudes and misinformation about living with HIV. Despite the fact that more heterosexual people, specifically cis women, are contracting HIV more frequently in recent years, HIV is still treated like a “gay disease”. Roughly 165,000 people in the U.S. are living with HIV unknowingly. The Southeast accounts for 52% of the United States’ estimated infections by region according to the CDC. There is a disproportionate impact of HIV on Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino communities. Barriers to prevention and treatment in rural areas contribute to many newer infections. Individuals who use intravenous drugs are also at higher risk, making up 10% of global HIV infections. Crucial to prevention and ensuring one’s own health and safety for others, testing is encouraged for all sexually active people and IV drug users (particularly those that share needles).
Dr. Avi Varma, Founder of Equal Health
"As the founder of Equal Health, I am deeply committed to addressing the stark reality of the HIV epidemic's disproportionate impact on the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States. Our mission is to break down the barriers that perpetuate these disparities and to create a future where every individual's health and well-being are embraced with compassion and equality.
At Equal Health, we are steadfast in our commitment to fighting for increased access to both HIV prevention and HIV treatment services, specifically tailored to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. We believe that education and awareness are vital components of prevention, empowering individuals with knowledge to protect themselves and their partners.
Moreover, our advocacy goes beyond prevention, as we strive to improve health outcomes for those living with HIV within the LGBTQIA+ population. By fostering an inclusive and affirming healthcare environment, we aim to provide comprehensive and culturally competent care that addresses not only the medical aspects but also the social and emotional well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community." - Dr. Avi Varma
Equal Health’s HIV Prevention and HIV Treatment plans include quarterly visits, unlimited secure messaging, lab ordering with analysis and 90-day prescription orders. Individual consultation pricing is an additional offer for patients to pay-as-they-go. Equal Health is available to patients in 15 States and now accepts Cigna Healthcare of Georgia and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Illinois.