World AIDS Day
In 2018, the status of HIV and AIDS in Maryland has improved, both in the areas of treatment and prevention.
Many outreach specialists, like Steven McDonald, are in the process of trying to raise awareness about PrEP, a prophylactic that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012 to protect against HIV. McDonald, who works with the Johns Hopkins REACH initiative, is currently taking the medication himself and helps other Baltimore city residents get access to the drug if they choose to pursue a prescription.
According to Dr. Sebastian Ruhs, Director of Infectious Disease Services at Chase Brexton, therapeutic drugs that suppress the virus now have fewer side-effects, which makes them easier to take for patients who have tested positive. Dr. Ruhs emphasizes that HIV positive individuals can now live normal lives and date and start families if they choose to.
Also, according to two newer medical studies Dr. Ruhs cites, if a patient is medicated properly, and their viral load is undetectable, they are unable to transmit HIV to others. According to Dr. Ruhs, the rate of new infections has gone down, both nationally, and in Maryland, and rising awareness and utilization of PrEP is a contributing factor.
McDonald views his work as helping to combat stigma around discussing HIV and sexual health, as well as helping to build better communication between the community and medical professionals. He says that, initially, people reacted to existence of an HIV prophylactic with “complete awe,” and that he views the drug as one of the ways in which people can proactively take charge of their health.
Dr. Ruhs lauds the shift in conversations he has with “very hopeful” HIV positive patients, as opposed to interactions he had just ten years ago. He says he hopes the current trend in new infections continues.