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Number of New HIV Cases Remain Stable Despite Education

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Rapid HIV test swabs

Tuesday marked World AIDS day, and people were encouraged to get tested. In Wisconsin, despite all the education efforts, the number of HIV cases diagnosed annually is not dropping, but it is holding steady. 

The disease is still hitting certain communities harder than others by the disease, yet activists say there are new reasons to be hopeful.

Thirty years ago, Ronnie Grace received news that would forever change his life. He was 27 years old and living in Los Angeles when he found out he was HIV positive.

“When I was given my diagnosis my HIV and AIDS was considered a death sentence. It was quite traumatizing thinking that I probably wouldn’t live more than six months,” Grace says.

In the beginning, Grace didn’t tell anyone. He says back then, many people considered HIV a disease that only white, gay men contracted. Grace and his friends were not white.

“So we all thought that we were safe. None of us thought about the fact that some of us were having sex with men who were having sex with other men who may have contracted the virus. Then all of a sudden, people in the community just started becoming ill and just dropping like flies around me,” Grace says.

Grace says his symptoms were nonexistent, and he only got tested because his roommates contracted the disease. Then he waited a while, but finally sought treatment. Grace says for the last 10 years, HIV has been undetectable in his body. Today, one of his missions is to let people know they don’t have to die from the disease. Grace works as a program coordinator for Diverse and Resilient - the largest LGBT agency in the Wisconsin.  He says so much misinformation about HIV/AIDS still exists, that some people avoid testing, even while engaging in risky behaviors.

“For me, stigma pretty much equals death,” Grace says.

Across the state increased education has not meant a decline in new cases.

“We are not seeing a significant drop in new infections over the last decade,” Dougherty says. 

That’s Jacob Dougherty, an HIV testing coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. He says across the state nearly 7,000 people are living with the disease, and a lot of them don’t know it. And HIV continues to hit minority communities especially hard.

Most new cases last year were in the state’s largest city—Milwaukee.

“Five times as many males as females are diagnosed and during 2014, 67 percent of those new diagnosis were among racial and ethnic minorities despite minorities only making up only 17 percent of Wisconsin’s population,” Dougherty says.

Still, Dougherty says there are real reasons to be hopeful. There are now drugs proven to stop the spread of HIV.

“Pre exposure prophylactic or PREP, which involves actually taking a pill called Truvada once a day. And an individual who his HIV negative can take this pill once a day and effectively prevent themselves from getting HIV, even if they engage in behaviors that would ordinarily put them at high risk,” Dougherty says.

So across the state and country, activists continue sharing accurate information about HIV/AIDS and its prevention.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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