Here’s the alarming alert from GMHC that arrived in my Inbox:
A new wave of HIV infections is about to hit New York and we had all better get ready for it-from AIDS service providers like us to all New Yorkers at risk. It is not just that many people have let their guard down when it comes to practicing safer sex or not sharing needles, but thousands of people are living with HIV without knowing it and are about to find out.
In June, our state legislature passed groundbreaking legislation requiring HIV testing to be offered routinely in medical settings. The law [went] into effect on Wednesday, September 1st. Previously, patients were required to sign a separate written consent form in order to get tested for HIV. Now, if you agree to a quick swab test, you will only have to give oral consent. When undergoing routine medical procedures or check-ups, you will be offered a standard HIV blood test to sign off on along with the battery of tests that most patients receive. Once you give your consent, it stays in effect for all your future blood tests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 100,000 people in New York City alone are currently living with HIV infection, but more than 25,000 of them do not know it. After all, HIV can take ten years or more to progress to AIDS, the syndrome that destroys your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to all manner of opportunistic infections.
Most of these unknowing carriers of HIV feel and look healthy and are, in most respects. But they are missing out on treatments that could prevent them from progressing to AIDS. Plus, they are in danger of transmitting the virus to others, continuing to fuel the epidemic.
Can the New York City Public Health system handle a whole new wave of infected, and unwitting, AIDS patients? Sure, they might have the medicine and the medical know-how to deal with these new AIDS discoveries — but is there enough coverage on the mental heath side of things?
AIDS is still generally viewed by the ordinary public as a Death Sentence — are the facilities ready for the influx of new bodies and are bright paths in place to counsel and educate and and advise the common fear that will instantly radiate from these new patients? Friends, families and associates will all be terrified and wondering and probably ill-equipped to deal with such a devastating diagnosis — along with a real, private, concern about their own health as well.
We can’t rely on the hope that we will ever have a successful AIDS vaccine — and so we must all go forward assuming there will never be a cure for AIDS — and that cold state of thinking will necessarily shape our future behavior and protect our need to educate others about the vulgarity of the ensuing infections.