By Nicole Elinoff
December 1st serves as a day for personal reflection. My first World AIDS Day was in 2012, a few months after losing my favorite person to AIDS related complications. It was at UCF where there was a gathering outside the Student Union in the courtyard. I didn’t know what to expect from this event but I knew that going forward I would be honoring this day each year, my life has forever changed. I remember seeing a banner reading “HIV Affects Us ALL”. This was the first year that this message truly resonated with me. This is now my 5th World AIDS Day, my feelings of this day have transformed but memories of my first one will always stay.
My first World AIDS Day, I was in mourning; depressed, sad, overwhelmed. My Uncle’s death was still so fresh and my knowledge and understanding of HIV was still so new. I took it upon myself to learn as much about HIV as I could and would eventually become an HIV tester and counselor. In the time since my Uncle’s death, I feel as if I have learned more about him since his passing. See, I didn’t know he was living with HIV until two days after his death. He didn’t want people to worry about him. He was always the type of guy to spend hours at the gym, making sure he looked big and strong- never sick. After learning more about stigma, I realized that maybe my Uncle internalized a lot of it. He had seen so much, always having a jacket in the car for each funeral. Sometimes many funerals in a week.
The epidemic has come a longgg way since the weekly funerals my Uncle had to experience, but we still have a long way to go in combatting the HIV epidemic. The CDC recently released the 2016 HIV Surveillance report, ranking the Orlando Metropolitan Area as number 5 in the country for new HIV cases. The epidemic is not over but now we have the tools in our hands to combat the epidemic.
This year, I think about World AIDS Day with a new level of excitement and empowerment. Since my first one in 2012, HIV prevention activities have advanced significantly. Since 2012 there has been a big uptick in PrEP (a daily medication to prevent HIV), HIV medications have advanced- some are one pill a day regimens, there has been more research, and the biggest news—that being Undetectable equals Untransmittable. Meaning someone who is adherent to their meds and is consistently undetectable virtually has no risk of transmitting the virus to someone else. We can truly end the epidemic.
The last five years has been a huge journey: a personal one, professional one, and one for HIV prevention. I am excited for the next five years, as we get closer to ending the epidemic. I know that my Uncle would be extremely proud of the past developments and of what’s to come.