On April 12, 2014, a local non-profit dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, hosted their 3rd Annual Big Island AIDS Walk at Lili’uokalani Gardens in Hilo. The Hawai’i Island HIV/AIDS Foundation also known as HIHAF offers many services not only for at-risk individuals, but the community at large also. Funded by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and The State of Hawaii’s Department of Health, the organization works diligently by offering free/confidential rapid testing for HIV and Hepatitis C, while case managing over 300+ clients island-wide.
After speaking with Misty Pacheco, PhD, MHA, the organization’s Executive Director, I learned that the rising rates of newly diagnosed cases are still occurring especially in places that have lower testing rates, which includes rural areas like Hawai’i, where stigmas related to the disease still exist. Because the U.S. Government now sees this as a managable chronic disease, rather than the epidemic it was once known for in the 1980-90s, a shift in focus has led them to reallocate the funding from prevention to case management. Fundraising events like these are critical in continuing the free services they provide to the community such as: prevention & education programs, rapid testing, along with providing prophylactics like condoms, lubricants, and dental dams.
This concerned me a lot because if AIDS Service Organization’s like HIHAF receive less funding for preventative services, isn’t it just a matter of time before we see an increase in individuals becoming positive for the HIV-virus here in Hawai’i? And, thanks to the treatment regimens introduced in the early-90’s, PLWHA are living a lot longer; however, this shouldn’t be a reason to no longer make it a part of our curriculum in educational settings and throughout the community. HIV clients pay over $25k a year for their medication. For those who can’t afford it on their own, organizations like HIHAF can help.
Pacheco stated, “We are actually pretty close to finding a cure.” In the meantime most of us can do our part by making safer sex practices a consistent habit. Supporting causes like the Big Island AIDS Walk can make a big difference not only by continuing the programs they provide, but to raise awareness about an issue that affects us all.