The University of Indianapolis and Steward of Justice and pre-nursing major Erin Miller hosted the “HIV/AIDS Stigma Event” on April 18 to inform students, future professionals and healthcare providers about the disease and the stigma associated with it.
A representative from the Damien Center, Director of Development and Communication Jeremy Turner, shared information about the center, what services it provides and the issues regarding the stigma of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The Damien Center, located in Indianapolis, was founded in 1987 in response to the AIDS crisis. According to Turner, HIV can only be transmitted through four bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
Turner said the Damien Center’s mission is to “work each day to lead the fight to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to empower persons in Central Indiana affected by HIV/AIDS to move forward each day with dignity.”
The center provides six major services: housing services, testing and prevention, medical services, care coordination, linkage to care and counseling services. Their housing services include long- and short-term housing, direct emergency financial assistance, food pantry and career development.
According to the Damien Center’s website, damiencenter.org, the center believes that safe, stable and affordable housing offers the best opportunity for its clients. Turner explained that having proper housing gives the patients better access to drug therapies, treatments and other services that will enhance their life.
“When people are housed properly, they can better manage their needs and become more healthy and self-sufficient,” Turner said. “Our Housing Assistance Program helps patients whether they need short- or long-term housing.”
According to the Damien Center’s website, its Housing Assistance Program helps with rental subsidy, utility assistance and paying for incidental expenses that affect other areas of a patient’s life, such as for one patient who needed help with repairing his electric wheelchair battery.
“The only time this patient [who was HIV positive] was able to interact outside of his nursing home was when he came to the center,” Turner said. “But when we noticed that he [had] stopped coming for a couple weeks, we called him up, and he explained that his wheelchair battery had died, and he couldn’t afford a new one. Through our Emergency Financial Assistance Program, we went ahead and fixed it for him.”
According to handouts from the event, more than 1,100 patients are diagnosed as HIV positive. However, through the center’s care coordination and linkage to care programs, it has helped reduce the HIV viral load by an average of 93 percent within the first six months of the program.
The Damien Center provides free HIV and STI testing, pregnancy testing, prevention counseling and outreach counseling as well. Its medical services include help in retrieving prescription drugs, medical case management and psychiatric care. It also provides an on-site medical clinic.
According to Turner, HIV transmission can be prevented between an HIV positive person and an HIV negative person by taking a pre-exposure prophylaxis, which can provide as much as a 92 percent to 99 percent reduction in HIV risk for an HIV-negative individual.
The stigma associated with HIV and AIDS has not changed much throughout the years, according to Turner.
“Today, living with an HIV positive diagnosis is more manageable than it was 30 years prior,” he said. “HIV is considered more of a chronic illness because there may not be a cure, but with advances in prevention, care and medical prescriptions, those affected can live normal lives. With these
advancements, we can stop the spread of HIV. I had a patient a couple of years back whose husband was HIV positive, and he failed to tell his wife. And she became extremely sick with an HIV-based pneumonia, and the hospital nurse refused to treat my patient because she was HIV positive. So the stigma associated with HIV can be life-threatening.”
Both Miller and Turner explained that one way to reduce the stigma regarding HIV and AIDS is to be informed.
“Future professionals should be well informed in not only being able to properly treat those affected medically but to also treat them with respect and dignity,” Miller said. “It is important to be well-informed and educated, not only regarding HIV, but for anything. The more someone is educated, the more they can sympathize and better relate to the individual.”