PGN Special Edition Coverage

In the more than 30 years since the first report of HIV, medical treatment has transformed the disease, enabling people with HIV to live healthy and productive lives. Regrettably, the stigma and hysteria around HIV have remained the same, and in some instances, have gotten worse. Somewhere along the line, HIV has been recast from a public-health problem to a criminal-justice issue. 

Keith: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

Fear of disclosing HIV status is one of the primary barriers for our clients in obtaining health care. Not surprisingly, such fears are quite common. Widespread discriminatory attitudes and hostility to people living with HIV provokes such fear. Discrimination and social ostracism often occur — but don’t need to — when people tell family, friends or acquaintances that they are living with HIV.

Returning citizens face many barriers when they are released from jail. Many did not have a stable source of income when they were arrested and, if they did, most have lost employment by the time that they are released. The vast majority does not have savings with which to procure stable housing upon discharge from a correctional facility. Because of this, when a person is released from jail, he or she is often homeless.

My work with individuals who are impacted with HIV has spanned many years. In the early 1990s, at the beginning of my career as a community psychiatrist, I worked at Betak, a nursing home/hospice for people with AIDS that was in Northwest Center’s catchment area. It was a sad, sobering experience orienting me to the epidemic. The science, stigma and survival have come a long way since then.

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