- Photography by Darlene
- Those battling HIV/AIDS also battle stigma. S-CAP offers support groups and more.
As former President Ronald Reagan noted in 1990 after the death of Ryan White, a young man who had AIDS: "We owe it to Ryan to be compassionate, tolerant and caring toward those with AIDS, their families and friends. It's the disease that's frightening, not the people who have it."
Two years prior, the inaugural World AIDS Day was observed on Dec. 1, highlighting awareness of HIV/AIDS by remembering those who have died, teaching about the virus and advocating for those living with AIDS or at risk of becoming infected. (Human Immunodeficiency Virus can be transmitted through exposure to blood and/or bodily fluids; some people infected with HIV will develop AIDS.) The Southern Colorado AIDS Project (S-CAP) has worked to support those with HIV/AIDS since that time period, serving the Colorado Springs area as well as 25 counties in Southern Colorado.
Chris Robertson, director of regional programs for the organization, says there is still so much stigma around HIV/AIDS in our community that he was unable to find a client willing to share their story with us. But statistics can help explain the problem. Worldwide, about 36 million people were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS at 2016's end; only 60 percent of that number were aware they had it. Locally, 85 percent of S-CAP's roughly 450 clients live below the federal poverty level, which can reduce their access to medical care.
Battling misperceptions is common for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, including assumptions about risky sexual behavior and intravenous drug use. One of the biggest myths is that HIV is a death sentence; in fact, with modern treatment people who carry the virus are expected to have a normal life span.
While there is no vaccine or cure for HIV, it's now possible to suppress the virus so risk of transmission is greatly lessened. And a drug called Truvada can decrease the chance of contracting the virus. This is known as PrEP, or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis. S-CAP can help those interested in obtaining PrEP access health care practitioners who prescribe it, as well as find financial assistance to pay for it.
As one of its many services, S-CAP educates around how to avoid becoming infected with HIV or contracting other sexually transmitted diseases, and they offer testing. For those who learn they're infected, they offer counseling, support groups and a peer support program.
Robertson says their goal in Give! this year is to reach new supporters who will help them provide end-of-year gifts for children affected by the illness, either being HIV positive themselves or having an infected family member. They'll also assemble and distribute holiday food baskets to adults living with the disease; last year they provided more than 80 baskets. S-CAP is also seeking volunteer support. Visit coloradoaidsproject.org/southern-colorado-aids-project for more.