Yesterday was World AIDS Day, a day of reflection on one of the longest lasting and widespread epidemics in the modern era, that continues to affect the lives of millions every year. First recognized in 1988, World AIDS Day has a long and somber history of honoring the loss of members of our community to AIDS. At the same time, it exists as a day to stand in solidarity with those who are living and thriving with HIV and to celebrate the medical advancements in treatment and prevention.
This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.” We cannot leave people behind in the march toward eradicating HIV from our communities. Eliminating stigma and discrimination are two key steps to ensure that those who need care are able to access it. That includes ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of people living with or at risk for HIV are respected and protected.
In a year when public health care, testing systems and structures, and activists are fighting to make spread prevention measures mainstream, there is no better time to continue a conversation about HIV and AIDS in our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has more globally demonstrated something that communities affected by HIV and AIDS have known for decades: systemic inequalities are deeply embedded in our public health infrastructures and medical systems.
For too long, the global HIV response has failed to meet the needs of adolescent girls and young women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other key groups, like sex workers, people who use drugs, people who are incarcerated, and certain Indigenous or ethnic communities who face elevated risk. Now is the time to recommit to global coordination and meaningful action.
On a local level, Planned Parenthood Great Plains is proud to be a provider of HIV testing and preventative care in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This year, PPGP has increased our capacity to serve patients seeking this care through telehealth and our recently launched Pleasure and Protection Kits, for patients located anywhere within our four-state region.
Removing two typical barriers to access — transportation and proximity to a health center — allowed us to provide at-home HIV rapid tests and barrier prevention methods like internal and external condoms to hundreds of people. Most of the people who requested HIV rapid tests at home also noted that this would be the first time they have checked their status.