The epidemic is not over. On Monday, World AIDS Day provided an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come, and explore the challenge that remains.
At Town Hall First Selectman Peter Tesei read a proclamation about World AIDS Day, which pointed out that since 1981, HIV/AIDS has killed nearly 39 million people, including 658,000 Americans.
“HIV is still a large problem in the US and of those who are HIV positive, only only 25% of them are on medication and many do not take their medication every day. That’s a big problem, because if you don’t take your medication every day, you can spread the disease,” said Scott Gretz, executive director of of World Health Clinicians and Circle Care Center in Norwalk.
“We need to do a better job getting people tested and on treatment right away. We try to reduce the stigma,” Gretz added.
“The highest infection rate still is among very young people, young men in particular, age 13-24,” said Gretz. “That’s where the majority of cases are coming in. We’re trying to tell people is young people and tell them to use protection. Get on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and you can take in advance of having sex that will prevent getting HIV.”
Robin Clark-Smith of Greenwich Health Dept said that in the US, the numbers of STDs are increasing in the 13-24 age range, but Greenwich continues to educate its young people and encourage them to protect themselves.
“You talk! There is a segment of the ‘Get yourself tested,’ campaign called ‘Get yourself talking,'” which she said really works with kids.
“It’s not talked about in a lot of households or schools, but if young people are equipped with knowledge before they start dating and having sex, they will take precautions and it will save them a life of having to deal with a life of having a complex disease,” Gretz said.
“I worked with another major health department in a major city and I would send my clients to the Venus Clinics because it’s free,” Clark-Smith said, adding, “It’s confidential. Anybody who walks in the door is treated with respect and confidentiality.”
The Venus Clinic is a collaborative project with Greenwich Hospital and in many cases results can come back in 24 hours, Clark-Smith said.
The Circle Care Center also prides itself on offering compassionate care. “You need to look at the entire person and also treat them as a person, not an object. They are a person with feelings and they’re usually scared when they come in and we try to assure them that they’ll be okay and we can handle what’s wrong with them and their life will be alright. It’s important to get rid of the stigma and judgement,” Gretz said.
The Venus Clinic inside Greenwich Town Hall is open on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.