It used to be a sad part of daily life for Dr. Cheryl Newman.
“Years ago, in the beginning of the epidemic, I can remember when rarely a day would go by that I didn’t know a name of somebody in the obituary section of The Augusta Chronicle that had been a client or a partner of a client of ours who had probably expired” from HIV- or AIDS-related illness, she said. “We rarely see that now.”
As advocates mark Thursday as World AIDS Day, Newman can point to success with patients if they can get tested and then into treatment. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, but about one in five – 240,000 – don’t know it because they have not been tested.
Of those who seek treatment, just over half are currently in ongoing care and of all those with HIV only 28 percent have achieved a low or undetectable level of virus, the CDC reported this week. Of the 1,300 seen at the HIV Clinic at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics where Newman sees patients, 86 percent are receiving antiretroviral drug treatment and the majority of those are well-controlled, she said.
That is important because keeping the virus at very low levels keeps the immune system from being ravaged and allowing other infections or even cancers to emerge, said Newman, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at Georgia Health Sciences University.
She credits the health system’s Ryan White Outreach Team for not only getting people tested but getting them set up to get to the clinic and get treated and stay in treatment.
“The program is primarily for testing but we consider getting the HIV diagnosis really just a small piece of the whole puzzle,” she said. And that is what is making the difference, particularly with the HIV- or AIDS-related illnesses that still claim some lives, Newman said.
“All of those are essentially eliminated or dramatically reduced in occurrence if somebody is on their HIV treatment and sticks with it,” she said.