By Lisa Rose Rodriguez, MPH Epidemiologist and Constance-Marie Samuels, MPH Student, Kent State University
Northern Ohio Recovery Association and the Fight Against HIV
An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with the HIV virus. This includes approximately 161,800 people who are unaware of their status. Nearly 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who are unaware of their status (HIV Testing. (2020, June 09). The first step in maintaining a healthy life and preventing HIV transmission is through HIV preventative screening.
HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, attacks the immune system by destroying white blood cells. Normally white blood cells, leukocytes, work to fight off infections. The presence of the HIV virus reduces the number of white blood cells that perform this function. There is no cure for HIV, but there is treatment. Without proper HIV treatment, your immune system becomes weak, making an infected person more susceptible to opportunistic infections. The final stage of infection is called AIDs.
Bisexual, gay, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are the population most affected by HIV in the United States. In 2018, male to male sexual contact accounted for 80% of new HIV transmissions (Local Data: Cuyahoga County, OH. AIDSVu. (2021, May 12). In 2019, there were 973 reported new diagnoses of HIV in the state of Ohio. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 80% of new diagnoses were among males and 48% were among African Americans/Blacks.
Discrimination, homophobia, and stigma put men who have sex with men (MSM) of all ethnicities/races at risk for multiple physical and mental health problems. This can contribute to whether they seek and receive high-quality health services, including HIV testing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 7).
The Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA), located on East 55th Street and St. Clair Avenue, offers numerous preventative services targeting substance abuse. Building Bridges to Recovery provides positive bridges of hope for youth ages 13-24 at high risk for HIV, STIs, and substance use disorders living in Cuyahoga County.
One of the best steps of prevention is to know your HIV status. The Unity Project educates the public and encourages HIV testing. The project was created by student intern Constance-Marie Samuels under the guidance of Prevention Coordinator Lynda Owens to show we are united in our fight against the spread of HIV. This project will also include NORA’s first Know Your Status Day. This event is geared to encourage testing amongst NORA employees and residents. Testing is incentivized. People who mention the word unity will receive a gift. NORA has partnered with Care Alliance for testing. Care Alliance has certified HIV testers that will be testing at Northern Ohio Recovery Association on Wednesdays.
The National Institutes of Health conducted an international clinical trial that found that individuals who were diagnosed with HIV early have a considerably lower risk of developing AIDs if treatment is started sooner (Starting antiretroviral treatment early improves outcomes for HIV-infected individuals. (2015, October 22). Many people who have contracted HIV or a STI are never diagnosed. Unfortunately, these people can pass the infections on to their sexual partner without ever realizing it. It can be frightening to learn about your STD status, depending on your risk level, but the good news is that many STDs are easily treatable, and those that cannot be cured outright can be managed.
HIV testing is available at NORA’s site, 1400 East 55th Street from 9 a.m. to noon. Questions? Call 216-391-6672 and ask for prevention.