Bittersweet Anniversaries

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This year many AIDS service organizations, often referred to as “ASO’s” by those in the world of public health, are celebrating big milestones. The Wright House, which was featured in the magazine recently, is celebrating its 25th year. AIDS Services of Austin, another nonprofit I’ve written about a few times, is also turning 25 this year.

It’s a bittersweet milestone. Twenty-five years ago, AIDS and HIV were still little-understood, and all doctors, friends and lovers could do for patients was offer love, comfort and advocacy. Many who contracted the disease before the current medications didn’t survive to see the advances made today, both socially and in excelling medical care and research.

Today testing and outreach are expanding and community partners are helping to break down stigmas. Current drugs treatments allow those living with HIV to lead a full life.

So there’s a lot to celebrate. But there’s also a lot of work to be done. As the ASO’s of Austin go into another decade of work, the challenges before them are not insignificant; among young people under age 22, infection rates have been rising, and rates are also high in minority populations and among women.

When I spoke with Bradley Pounds, the board chair at the Wright House, he mentioned a concern that I hear anytime I interview someone involved with an ASO: that the life-saving medications developed in the 1990’s and more recently, have also led to a sense of complacency, or a perception that living with HIV simply means taking some pills.

At the same time, the funding landscape has changed. Texas’ HIV medication program does not have a waiting list, which means many people who cannot pay for HIV medication are able to get it. That in turn means fewer new transmissions. But funding is almost always in jeopardy, and federal funding for HIV and AIDS programs can be divvied up differently each year.

So as 2013 moves forward, let’s not forget there’s still a lot of work to be done to vanquish HIV and AIDS.

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