HIV is not a joke

I have been asked multiple times to address certain rumors around campus regarding an HIV outbreak. This has made me extremely uncomfortable. Someone’s possible HIV status is not a headline nor a TikTok punchline. I do not have any interest in exposing or prying into someone’s personal health records. In fact, the thought of that deeply disturbs me. Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to educate all of my readers.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have learned a lot from my peers regarding HIV and AIDS. This is because the HIV epidemic disproportionately impacts gay and bisexual men, transgender women, youth 13-24 and communities of color. One of the most important pieces of information I have carried with me is the importance of maintaining the privacy of a person’s HIV status. Not only is this status personal medical information, but discrimination against people living with HIV is pervasive. This diagnosis carries great stigma.

Human rights violations against people diagnosed with HIV have occured in health care settings where those individuals are barred from accessing certain services or enjoying quality health care. Some living with HIV are shunned by family, peers and their wider community. Others face backlash in educational and work settings, erosion of their rights and psychological damage. These all contribute to the lack of access to HIV testing and treatment.

College and university students are at higher risk for acquiring HIV with certain studies showing that an estimated 1 in 500 college students in the United States is infected with HIV. In Miami-Dade, 1 in 31 Black adults are living with HIV compared to 1 in 127 Hispanics and 1 in 103 white adults. As a majority of my readers are members of the Miami-Dade community, these numbers should be incredibly alarming. Educating ourselves and others to increase awareness leads to prevention and eliminating the stigma.

Luckily, more tools than ever are available to us to prevent HIV. While abstinence is not anyone’s favorite option, using condoms appropriately each time you have sex should be. Student Health is debuting a new Safer Sex Supplies Pickup Program in which students can request external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams and lubricant for free. Free external condoms on campus are readily available at the Student Health waiting area & exam rooms, the front desks of all residential colleges, bathrooms in the Rathskeller, the 1st floor of the UC near the printer and the Student Organization Suite. You may also be able to take advantage of HIV prevention medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

If you are someone who uses needles to inject drugs, make sure to never share needles. About 1 in 10 new HIV diagnoses in the United States are attributed to injection drug use or male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use (men who report both risk factors). Needles, syringes or other injection equipment may survive in a used vessel for up to 42 days. Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, prescription stimulants and prescription opioids can be injected into the bloodstream through a vein. If you find yourself struggling with abuse of any of these substances, please reach out to the Sandler Center on campus. There are anonymous and confidential meetings to help you or a friend navigate tough situations involving substance use.

Lastly, it is unfortunate to note that only 24.5 percent of college students report being tested for HIV as of 2018. Before having sex with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and then get tested for HIV and other STDs before engaging in sexual activity. I understand that may not be possible if you are engaging in a little action unexpectedly, but still I must emphasize that it is imperative to get tested regularly if you are engaging in sex with multiple partners.

I wish everyone on campus health and happiness always. No one deserves to suffer from any sort of illness or disease. We must care for and look out for each other during these trying times. Get tested, use a damn condom and don’t share your heroin.