Know Your Status this World AIDS Day
“You get a positive result, and that’s a lifelong change in your life. And society is still set up to think that HIV is a death sentence, like it was before the advancement of medication.”
That’s Mikayla Robinson. She works as an engagement specialist with Mozaic, an outreach program through Equitas Health targeting transgender and gender non-binary people of color. She’s also HIV positive.
This World AIDS Day, Robinson and others in the field want you to know your status. It’s this year’s theme, and during an event this Saturday, Dec. 1, Robinson and her coworker Luster Singleton will be putting on a show at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to demonstrate how far science has come, and how manageable an HIV diagnosis can be.
Singleton was on the frontline during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. They saw 29 of their friends die and inevitably withdrew from HIV/AIDS work. Then they met Robinson.
“They found me, a friend who was surviving and living who was HIV positive,” she says. “So they got to see me go through the transitions of finding out your diagnosis, figuring out how to handle and deal with it, being able to get on medicine and getting to a point of being undetectable and having good health.”
Robinson says in the 80s, it was a fight to figure out which medicines could manage the virus. But now there are medications like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), the birth control and Plan B of HIV prevention. And for those who’ve already been diagnosed with HIV, there are medications that can suppress the virus to the point of undetectability.
That’s a point that Robinson stressed — the possibility of the virus becoming undetectable. She’s been virally suppressed and undetectable for six years, meaning the virus can’t be spread to any of her partners. The medical world has coined a term for it: U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.
Despite these advancements, Robinson says there are a number of factors that keep people from being tested, like the life-altering effect of a positive result, or the fact that society has yet to catch up with science, and being HIV positive still carries a lot of stigma. She says the only way to change that is continued education.
This year Equitas Health is partnering with Columbus Public Health (CPH) and Nationwide Children’s Hospital for an educational and commemorative event. They’ll display the names of those who’ve succumbed to the virus while celebrating the lives of those who are living healthily with HIV. There will be live performances and free HIV testing. It’ll take place from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Stecker Auditorium in the Children’s Hospital (575 S. Eighteenth St.).
For those who can’t make it to the event, there are other places to get tested in Columbus, including CPH’s Sexual Health Clinic and Take Care Down There Clinic (240 Parsons Ave.), the Faces Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (380 Butterfly Gardens Dr.), Equitas Health (4400 N. High St., Ste. 300; 1033 N. High St.), OSU Student Wellness Center (337 Annie and John Glenn Ave., Room B130), and the Out of the Closet thrift store (1230 N. High St.).
For more information, visit ohiv.org.