By Christina Sainovich
This month saw the 31st World Aids Day, always recognized on Dec. 1. Millions of people, including hundreds in our community, are living with either HIV or AIDS.
Terry Mitchell, a registered nurse, works at the Comprehensive Care Center in Youngstown and described what HIV is.
“HIV is a virus that is sexually transmitted and also transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, as in IV drug users sharing needles,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said that untreated, HIV can be very dangerous.
“It can kill you. If you do not seek treatment, out of fear or you just don’t want to do it, in eight to 10 years your immune system will get so weak that any infection that you’ve ever been exposed to, for instance tuberculosis or a certain type of pneumonia, it will activate,” Mitchell said.
If the disease is treated properly, patients can lead fairly normal lives. The treatment has become simpler and painless over the years.
“There is excellent treatment now. The treatment used to be very toxic. Now, I would say the majority of our patients probably are on one pill once a day. … It does not affect your other body systems the way it used to,” Mitchell said.
Teaquan Cosper, the clinic director at the Comprehensive Care Center in Youngstown, said the center provides important care to those who live with HIV and AIDS.
Cosper said the center treats patients across the Mahoning Valley.
“We have 360-plus patients. We have four providers. All of them are infectious disease providers, and one of them is a pediatrician. So we see adults and children,” Cosper said.
Daniel Wakefield, director of the Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry, said many people forget HIV is still a very threatening disease.
“It’s just important for people to realize that HIV is still around,” Wakefield said.
While some people forget about HIV, some choose to ignore it or look down on HIV carriers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes HIV stigma as “negative attitudes and beliefs about people living with HIV. It is the prejudice that comes with labeling an individual as part of a group that is believed to be socially unacceptable.”
The Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown Ministry does work throughout the community to help those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Wakefield said the ministry also provides services for children who have been affected.
“The ministry as a whole, in addition to the clinic, has a children’s program, where we do after-school programming and summer programming for children who are living with or affected by HIV,” Wakefield said.
Aside from programs, dinners and food pantries, the ministry provides helpful services to the community.