On December 1st, we recognize World AIDS Day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the more than 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, only 87 percent are aware of their health status. The impact of lack of awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS remains a critical concern to social workers and allied providers.
Only four of 10 persons diagnosed with HIV are receiving HIV medical care. And only 37 percent are receiving HIV medications, a necessary bio-medical intervention that both helps achieve viral suppression and greatly reduces the chances of transmitting the virus.
Social workers understand that HIV-related disparities are rooted in range of complex social, economic, environmental, and systemic issues. Thirty years into the HIV pandemic our clients, their families, and entire communities face limited resources and services, varying level of access to care and treatment, and the continued impact of HIV stigma and discrimination.
Evidence has demonstrated that HIV-related health disparities have been linked to the broader social determinants of health, including poverty, unequal access to health care, lack of access to education, as well as the impact of stigma, sexism and racism.
In the United States, there is significantly higher rates of HIV in communities of color overall, particularly African-American women and African-American gay men/MSM. And for African-Americans diagnosed with HIV, research has shown the person is less likely to be linked to care, retained in care, receive antiretroviral treatment and/or achieve adequate viral suppression.
And, while approximately one in four people living with HIV infection in the United States are women, their health remains at risk. Of all women living with HIV in 2011, approximately 45 percent were engaged in care, and only 32 percent had achieved viral suppression.
Updated White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy
Earlier this year, the White House issued an updated National 2020 HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). The updated NHAS is a five-year plan that details principles, priorities, and actions to guide and support a national response to the HIV epidemic.
As the largest provider of mental health services in the United States, professional social workers have a key role in supporting the goals of the NHAS: reduce the number of new infections, increase access the care and treatment, reduce health disparities, and achieve a more coordinated national response to the HIV pandemic.
In support of the NHAS 2020, the National Association of Social Workers released a document outlining the critical role of professional social work in meeting the goals of the NHAS 2020, and highlighted the role of social work practice in facilitating the HIV Care Continuum.
How Social Workers are getting involved
For example, through individual, group, and community engagement, social workers are creating opportunities to talk with clients about HIV prevention, working to improve client’s engagement and access to appropriate health and mental health services, and applying evidence-based practices to help clients identify and build strategies to promote medication adherence.
HIV/AIDS impacts the communities in which social workers live and practice. As a profession, we are committed to providing culturally competent services that include comprehensive and integrated mental health and behavioral health services for persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Comprehensive care includes access to mental health and substance use programs that are designed to ensure access to services, supports to remain in care, and culturally relevant tools that promote medication adherence
Globally, the social work profession must continue our efforts for inclusion of HIV/AIDS issues into development efforts, emphasizing awareness, prevention, and care and treatment as priority areas to be actively included in organizational systems and policies.
Everyday — social workers on the front-lines as clinicians, educators, researchers, policy makers, and advocates — are working to create accessible, equitable, and sustainable services for persons living and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.
For more information on NASW programs regarding HIV/AIDS contact NASW Senior Policy Associate Evelyn Tomaszewski, MSW, at firstname.lastname@example.org