By Natalie Bates
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, we find ourselves living amidst a public health crisis in which death tolls soar, cases increase, and our economy plummets. It has become clear that those hardest hit by the virus are members of marginalized groups including the poor, uninsured, and racial and ethnic minorities. Yet, there is another key group of individuals often left out of the discussion: People living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, people with HIV who are on effective HIV treatment have the same risk for COVID-19 as people who do not have HIV. But HIV positive individuals who are not on treatment, or who are not virally suppressed may have a compromised immune system, that makes them vulnerable to severe illnesses such as COVID-19. As reported by HealthGlobal Access Project, of the 38 million people living with HIV worldwide, one in three lacks access to life-saving treatment. Although a cure does not exist for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can keep HIV positive individuals healthy for many years by reducing the viral load in their blood and body fluids which in turn, reduces the risk of passing HIV to others. Above all, antiretroviral therapy helps keep the immune system strong and better equipped to fight off severe infections such as COVID-19. For this reason, we must fight to ensure that those living with HIV have access to treatment, particularly in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Here at St. Michael’s College, the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) takes part in the fight for life-saving HIV/AIDS treatment through advocacy and education. Our chapter has been influential in the adoption of progressive AIDS policies through our work with Senator Patrick Leahy, to increase funding to the Global Fund for HIV, TB, and malaria. We continue to fight for our policy objective: To increase funding to the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEP- FAR), a program created in 2003 under the Bush administration, and provided more than $80 billion worth of funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research. Since its creation, PEP- FAR enabled strong bipartisan support across nine U.S. congresses and three presidential administrations. SGAC seeks to further bipartisan support for PEPFAR through organizing and lobbying, to ensure people living with AIDS are protected under each political administration.
Natalie Bates is a senior political science and sociology double major, and member of SGAC.