If you need to borrow a book, you go to the library. If you need a loan, you go to a bank. But where do you go if you have questions about HIV or just found out you are HIV positive?
Thanks to the Nashville Health Management Foundation, you go to HIVMidTN.org.
“We’re the 211 of HIV in our area,” community partnership consultant Nancy VanReece says with a laugh.
HIVMidTN.org is a brand new website launched by the Nashville Health Management Foundation, a non-profit organization working to improve public health. Whether you are HIV positive yourself, have a friend with HIV, want to find services, or just have questions, HIVMidTN.org can direct you to organizations in Middle Tennessee that can help.
“We’re there to point people in the right direction,” says VanReece, “not to be the service but to point to it.”
Pointing people toward existing services would significantly reduce the spread of HIV in Middle Tennessee. “There were 300 new cases of HIV every year being recorded in our region,” VanReece explains. “The thing that really emotionally drew me to helping with the organization was this fact: if those 300 recently diagnosed people received the care that is available to them on an ongoing basis, that number would automatically drop to 12 [new cases of HIV per year].”
According to VanReece, people who are HIV positive in Middle Tennessee don’t seek care for a variety of reasons. “They may discover they’re HIV positive and go into the ‘closet’ about it. There’s some stigma still attached to the disease so they could go months or years without seeing signs and they get in denial,” she points out.
Sometimes people don’t seek care because of poverty. “They would love to get the care but they don’t have transportation, or they have to decide if they’re going to use their money for medicine or food without realizing there are subsidies available,” VanReece says, continuing, “Homelessness is an issue. If the medicine has to be refrigerated, how does that happen? There are solutions that exist. We exist to gather that information and close those gaps.”
New cases of HIV from people ages 15-25 grew 106% from 2007. “That tells us a lot about the psychological place new cases are coming from,” says VanReece. “They may not even tell their parents, and a young, healthy male may think, ‘I can beat this,’ or, ‘This isn’t a death sentence anymore, I’ll be okay,’ not realizing it requires maintenance for that to happen.”
HIVMidTN.org is looking to create a dialogue about HIV in Middle Tennessee. “Simply talking more about it and trying our best every day to remove the stigma helps folks who have this disease to talk about it as if they had diabetes,” VanReece says. VanReece would like to see more people who are HIV positive in Middle Tennessee be unafraid to tell their stories and be role models for the community. “Part of our second phase at HIVMidTN.org is to be a place where those stories can be safe and told. Right now when you go to find those stories, they’re not from Middle Tennessee,” she says.
VanReece explains that everyone can help remove the stigma of HIV. “It requires all of us to ask hard questions,” she says. “The health department recommends if you’re sexually active to be tested every six months. ’When was the last time you were tested?’ needs to not be a negative question.”
In addition to starting a dialogue about HIV in their personal lives, people in Middle Tennessee can help by helping HIVMidTN.org. “Go to the website and tell us what you like about it; tell us what doesn’t work,” VanReece says.
HIVMidTN.org has a graphic created by Nashville designer Rob Williams illustrating the “300 to 12” drop in new cases. “We wanted to make it a cool enough sticker to put on your skateboard,” laughs VanReece. Subscribers to HIVMidTN.org’s newsletter get a free sticker, and a download “300 to 12” poster is available in the “About” section of HIVMidTN.org.
VanReece and the folks at HIVMidTN.org would like to people throughout Middle Tennessee to know about “300 to 12.” “Put it up wherever you want!” VanReece says.