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World AIDS Day: Outbreaks spotlight need for awareness of effective treatment, prevention

As science advances, stigma remains a hurdle to ending HIV in Minnesota.

3 mins read

This World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, health officials encourage Minnesotans to spread the word about effective treatment and prevention options for HIV. With outbreaks occurring in the Twin Cities metro and Duluth areas, education is essential to curbing the rise and bringing an end to HIV.

“We continue to respond to two active HIV outbreaks in Minnesota,” said Christine Jones, manager of STD/HIV/TB programs at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). “These are the first defined outbreaks in Minnesota since the epidemic began in the 1980s, and primarily involve people who inject drugs and people experiencing unstable housing, as well as people with newly diagnosed HIV in the Duluth region. We know that when we equip people with good information about testing and treatment in a culturally appropriate way, it can make a difference. It is critical that everyone, especially health care providers, use accurate information about HIV and actively address misinformation. Ending HIV in our state and the world means listening, collaborating, and sharing the science.”

Prevention and treatment options for HIV have changed significantly since the beginning of the epidemic. Advancements include pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—the daily pill that prevents HIV— and Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U). U=U is based on the scientific consensus that when taken as prescribed, antiretroviral therapy can reduce the amount of HIV in someone’s blood to undetectable levels, making it impossible to pass HIV to sex partners.

“These highly effective strategies can help us end HIV,” Jones said. “The remaining hurdle to ending the epidemic is overcoming the stigma of HIV and ensuring that all people can benefit from these advancements equitably.”

“Stigma against people living with HIV and people who use drugs factors into our work every day,” said Mariah Wilberg, statewide HIV strategy and services coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. “People living with HIV can live long and healthy lives with access to care and treatment. But too often stigma prevents people from getting tested, and stigma prevents those who test positive from getting treated. Sharing the message about PrEP and U=U is one way we all can fight HIV stigma.”

Racial disparities in new HIV diagnoses are significant, with over two-thirds (69%) being among communities of color. There are also disparities in HIV health outcomes for those living with HIV, such as connection to care and retention in care. These inequities stem from the effects of structural racism, the housing crisis, and the drug overdose emergency that impacts the HIV landscape in Minnesota.

According to Jones, the COVID-19 pandemic response has highlighted the stigma of these overlapping issues and the benefits of holistic health care.

“Stigma shows up for the overlapping crises in so many ways,” said Jones. “Holistic health care is meeting people where they are at, physically and mentally. Portable testing sites, mobile PrEP distribution, and inclusion of other health services, such as COVID-19 vaccines, have been successful in reaching people experiencing homelessness.”

END HIV MN, Minnesota’s statewide plan to end HIV, aims to reduce these health disparities and foster innovation. “We’re updating END HIV MN to make sure our efforts are responsive to the HIV outbreaks and changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Wilberg. “Please make your voice heard by attending an END HIV MN Strategy Priority Virtual Meeting in December or by taking the END HIV MN Strategy Priority Survey to help us set the priorities for the next two years.”

MDH recommends everyone between ages 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once. If you are sexually active or share syringes or other injection equipment, you should be tested yearly. Find a testing place near you at HIV Testing. If you are injecting drugs or other substances, access Syringe Service Programs for sterile syringes, naloxone, and harm reduction services.

As part of the acknowledgment of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, this year, MDH leaders encourage people to attend virtual events to celebrate the long history of creative resilience as well as this year’s successes. Many MDH partners are hosting virtual activities or events, including:

World AIDS Day Events

Sarah Simmons Showcase

An in-person talent showcase, featuring STI and HIV testing, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and a town hall discussion.
Dec. 1, 4 to 8 p.m.
3801 1st Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55458

Creating a Healthier Life: Discussion and Workshop on the Eight Dimensions of Wellness

An in-person event open to anyone living with HIV. This event is free of charge. Lunch will be provided. RSVP at
Dec. 1, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
200 W. 1st St., Duluth, MN 55802

Red Undie Run

Join Aliveness in the annual Red Undie Run across the Stone Arch Bridge to raise awareness to World AIDS Day.
Dec. 4, 11:30 a.m.

World AIDS Day with All Nations Indian Church

An in-person event with speakers, presentations, HIV testing, lunch, and a fire for Asemaa.
Dec. 1, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
1515 E. 23rd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404

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