As most of you know, June is Pride month. A time to celebrate the histories, legacy, and lives of queer people. June is about more than remembering the Stonewall pride1Uprising or the Compton Cafeteria Riots. Those brave individuals that stood up for their right to live unburdened by their identities gave us the power to respond to a national epidemic, fight for employment and housing protections, demand access to quality healthcare, and have relationships recognized as legitimate under the law. The LGBTQ community and the HIV epidemic have always been closely linked. Gay and bisexual men and trans women suffer the greatest burden, and their lesbian, bi, and trans brothers and sisters have often cared for them as they shouldered it.

It’s no wonder, then, that there are so many milestones in the epidemic concentrated in Pride month.

  • June 1981 – The publication of the first documented cases of what would come to be known as AIDS. Millions of lives were lost and so many more affected.
  • June 1996 – International AIDS Conference, the world learned about the success of triple combination anti-retroviral therapy; a breakthrough we still use today. Highly active antiretroviral therapy has allowed us to change the game, turning a death-sentence into a manageable chronic condition with near-normal life expectancy and little chance of further transmissions.
  • June 2001 – The United Nations announced the Global Fund to support countries and organizations in fight against HIV by funding prevention, treatment and care, eventually distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in support year-after-year.
  • June 2010 – President Barack Obama released the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a roadmap to end the domestic epidemic that included promoting effective prevention strategies such as Treatment as Prevention, and (now) PrEP and PEP.

We must continue to remember and share the histories of LGBTQ people, celebrate our progress, and double-down on our shared principles. Collectively, our organization and our unified voice can impact lives in Ohio through care, prevention, advocacy, empowerment, and hope.

As the festivities, events, and brunches begin, we encourage you to reflect and remember those whom we lost too early thanks to the domestic AIDS epidemic; an entire generation of artists, thinkers, leaders, and activists silenced in a matter of years. And to remember those still here, still fighting, and still writing our histories, now right alongside of us.

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In Recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

In recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day I decided to tell my personal story. Of course I could give statistics and data, which I will do a little of later, but I thought sharing my story 19would be most impactful.

Unfortunately, like many young African American gay males, I was not as educated about HIV as should I have been. This was due to not hearing much about it in school, being heavily involved in the church, and honestly, growing up Black. Being gay was and still is a taboo within the Black community and then to add HIV on top of that was definitely a recipe for disaster.

In the summer of 2009 I started to develop boils in various places of my body and didn’t know why. I decided to go to a local Urgent Care and get some antibiotics. After finishing the medication I got really sick. I started to develop rashes on my body, felt very weak, and could hardly eat. I went to the ER and the nurses and doctors ran multiple tests. Although the results said that I was allergic to the medication that I was taking for the boils, they felt something else was wrong. They asked me if I had ever had an HIV test and I told them that I had only once before, so they tested me.

I was finally released from the hospital but didn’t receive my HIV test results. I waited for a few days and eventually called the hospital and requested them. The nurse informed me over the phone that I was HIV negative. Of course I was excited! It wasn’t until I went to my follow-up appointment with my family physician during my lunch break at work, ON MY BIRTHDAY, that I found out that I was HIV+. Imagine me in his office happy and smiling, excited about my birthday weekend and my doctor coming into the room saying “You seem awfully happy to have heard the news.” I was wondering what he was talking about and then he told me that I wasn’t just diagnosed with HIV but also AIDS. My CD4 count was 2 and my viral load was in the six figures. To this day my doctors still don’t know how I was able to survive.

It turns out I had a strain they had never seen before. Throughout my journey I developed seizures, lost my sight and mobility, weighed 98 pounds, and spent months at a time hospitalized. The fear within my mother’s eyes was something that I had never seen before. I remember that exact moment I told her I was HIV+. We were standing in my grandmother’s yard and I broke down crying and muttered the words, “I have AIDS.” At that moment she grabbed me in her arms and whispered in my ear with tears coming down her face “WE will get through this.” From that point on my mother was at almost every hospital visit and became my rock. I remember laying in the hospital bed crying, not knowing what to do, while my Infectious Disease doctor and nurse were preparing to tell my mother that I was not going to make it. My mother held my hand and sternly said, “You are a fighter, you will not give up. God has a plan and a purpose for you.”

My “lightbulb” moment came the last time I was in the hospital in 2013 when I had my worst seizure to date. I was married at the time and couldn’t remember my husband’s name or even recognize him. I couldn’t speak and lost most of my memory as it relates to that time period. It was after I had finally woken up, after almost a month, that I finally realized that God had a greater purpose for me. All the trials and tribulations that I have been through had been for me to share. I went through what I went through so I can could become a guiding light for others. It was at that moment that I vowed to do what I could in order to decrease the number of new HIV/AIDS infections among young Black gay men, and to this day that vow still lives within me.

I joined a local empowerment group for young African American gay men doing outreach. Shortly after I began working at the Greater Columbus Mpowerment Center (GCMC) as the Outreach Services Specialist. While at GCMC, I became the chair person for both World AIDS Day and the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day committees for the city of Columbus. I soon began working for Columbus Public Health as a Disease Intervention Specialist focusing on young African American gay men. Currently I am the Program Manager at the Ohio AIDS Coalition, an organization that provides hope, healing, and empowerment to all Ohioans affected by HIV/AIDS.

While I believe that I have done great things for my community there is still more work to be done. In Ohio in 2014, African Americans accounted for 52% of all persons diagnosed as HIV+, making them nine times more likely to be diagnosed compared to whites. 44% of all people living with HIV in Ohio are Black/African American. Since African Americans make up about 13% of Ohio’s population, you can see how disproportionately this community is affected by HIV/AIDS.

It is imperative that we not only show support for this community but start and continue to mobilize. Testing is only one piece of the puzzle. Addressing issues around survival sex, homelessness, stigma, poverty, etc. is how were are truly going to be able to reduce new HIV infections among Blacks.

I decided to tell my story to show and prove that despite whatever negative experiences you have, you can and will get through them. February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and I implore you to get involved. Take the time to educate yourself about HIV/AIDS and what it is doing to our community. If we do not start equipping ourselves properly and becoming more knowledgeable, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our brothers and sisters. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” I challenge you to start living.

Yours in the fight,

Adrian Neil Jr.


This is the year to end rationalizations and isolationism and break out of the silo.

  • The number of new HIV infections in Ohio has gone up over the past ten years.
  • The national conversation about HIV and AIDS has become muted.
  • The age group most impacted by new infections is the younger generation.
  • An HIV positive status has been criminalized for almost two decades.
  • HIV positive Ohioans now have full access to Marketplace and Medicaid managed care plans.
  • Community viral suppression will reduce the rate of new infections.

Let’s put those in perspective. HIV has been in a silo since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s. The Ryan White Care Act was enacted by Congress in 1990 to provide a safety net for individuals living with HIV or AIDS primarily because these persons had no other sources of care or support. For as long as the virus has been around, society spoke about HIV/AIDS separately from other diseases in general, as though it was something to keep apart, and keep isolated. Culturally we became so specialized, so focused on the havoc the human immunodeficiency virus can bring, that we missed the bigger picture.

The advent of highly active antiretroviral therapies changed HIV/AIDS from being a fatal disease to being a chronic disease. It also had a different effect of muting the conversation about the seriousness of the HIV and its impact on the lives of those who contract the virus; isolating both the disease and those with it even further.

The result is not surprising. Society maintained the HIV/AIDS silo, and because of that, the national number of new infections annually has stagnated at 50,000 over the past few years. When it comes to new infections, you don’t want to see stability, you want to see a decline. Individuals under the age of twenty didn’t experience the height of the epidemic in the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s and the muted dialog only served to place the younger generations at greater risk. They are now the age group with the highest rate of new HIV infections, accounting for one in four.

2014 was a watershed moment not only for all Ohioans regardless of HIV status. For the first time in history HIV positive Ohioans can now be covered by some form of insurance with Essential Health Benefits (EHB) whether through employer sponsored insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or the Marketplace. Access to coordinated comprehensive integrated care means greater opportunities to reduce community viral load and reduce new HIV infections.

2015 will be another watershed year—a year of breaking the silo.

  • We will move forward and recognize that HIV is a disease—not a crime.
  • We will work to fully integrate HIV treatment into mainstream health care.
  • We will promote prevention interventions including pre-exposure phrophylaxis (PrEP).
  • We will work to ensure persons with HIV have fully integrated and equal access to housing and employment.
  • We will promote State Health Education Standards.
  • We will reinitiate the dialog about HIV and AIDS with the public at large.

So, here’s the thing, and there’s really no getting around it. If we’re going to really commit to ending the HIV epidemic, we need to break the silo.

CDC’s Prevention Through Healthcare Site is Up and Running!

The CDC’s new Prevention Through Healthcare website is up and running! As of May 5th, local health departments, healthcare providers, and consumers can access the site to get the latest information on the prevention of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS.

The interactive and information filled webpage focuses on preventative healthcare. A major feature of the site is its Resources on the Changing Health System page, featuring a lot of material on Medicaid expansion, finding doctors, and health policy.  There’s even a section that breaks down the Affordable Care Act and makes it easy to understand!

Sections of the page have been designed to help state and local health departments successfully utilize the crucial prevention and healthcare improvement tools from the CDC. An extremely useful resource for health departments is the Next Steps program, designed to help “identify key strategies and activities that anticipate and address the complicated but emerging circumstances and improve population health.”  The website looks like it’ll be a great resource!

As the site focuses on the prevention of diseases through healthcare, several sections are dedicated to preventative medicine and its effect on the HIV community. These sections provide information about new discoveries and advancements of vaccines and treatments of infectious diseases.  The CDC’s website specifically discusses PrEP and the benefits it could have for the HIV community.  It looks very promising and it’s exciting to see the CDC pay attention to this topic!

Overall, the new prevention website will be a major step forward in connecting consumers, health departments, and the CDC, and at the same time making information on health insurance and healthcare easier to access.

The Ohio AIDS Coalition’s website also has a bunch of resources to help Ohioans work through healthcare enrollment. Information on Ohio’s Medicaid Expansion and help navigating the system can be found here.  We’ve also conducted an analysis of how medicines covered under Medicaid and Marketplace plans compare to the OHDAP formulary as well as an analysis of which providers accept particular insurance plans.  And make don’t forget to check out our calendar to find upcoming OAC events in your area!

First over-the-counter home use HIV test kit approved by FDA

On July 3, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, the first over-the-counter, self-administered HIV test kit to detect the presence of antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and type 2 (HIV-2).  The test, made by OraSure Technologies Inc., has previously been available only to health-care professionals.

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test will be sold in retail stores so people won’t have to go to a health facility to learn if they have the virus. It is designed to allow individuals to collect an oral fluid sample by swabbing the upper and lower gums inside of their mouths, then place that sample into a developer vial, and obtain test results within 20 to 40 minutes.

“Today’s FDA approval of a in-home-use HIV test kit helps facilitate the goals of the National HIV/ AIDS Strategy of reducing HIV incidence and provides another option for individuals to get tested, know their status, and be linked to medical care and treatment, when and if appropriate,” stated Tyler Andrew TerMeer, Director of the Ohio AIDS Coalition – a Division of AIDS Resource Center Ohio. “It is of concern however that the home test doesn’t appear to be as accurate as tests conducted by health professionals and that the cost of the test could in fact be a potential barrier while there are more accurate, free tests administered by trained professionals at locations throughout Ohio.”

One measure of the test’s accuracy in the home setting indicated it had a sensitivity rate of 92%. The test currently being utilized by health professionals has a sensitivity rate of 99.7%.  The FDA said this means there would be one false negative test result for every 12 tests taken in HIV-infected individuals. The FDA said one false positive result would be expected out of every 5,000 test results taken by uninfected individuals.

“A positive result with this test does not mean that an individual is positively infected with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the test result” stated Bill Hardy, President & CEO of AIDS Resource Center Ohio. “Similarly, a negative test result does not mean that an individual is without a doubt uninfected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the window period of the previous three months.”

OraSure Technologies Inc., will have a consumer support center that is available via phone and will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The center will be available to educate users about HIV/AIDS, the proper method for administering the test and guidance on what to do once results have been obtained.  Information about the consumer support center and contact information is included in the test kit.

ARC Ohio and the Ohio AIDS Coalition believe that the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test has the potential to identify large numbers of previously undiagnosed HIV infections, especially if used by those unlikely to use standard screening methods. It will remain more critical than ever that we develop a more coordinated response to the implementation of effective strategies that provide access to appropriate education, information and referral to all those testing for HIV.

For more information contact the Ohio AIDS Coalition at (800) 226-5554.