Means of Effective HIV Prevention – IVLP

Earlier this year, the World Affairs Council International Visitor Program welcomed a six Russian delegates to Seattle to examine HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts in the U.S. These visitors participated in the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) which provides current and emerging leaders from around the world the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. on a three-week long program and engage with their American counterparts. Seattle was a strong choice for these delegate’s IVLP as King County recently achieved a major goal set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against HIV/AIDS. King County is one of the first counties in the U.S. to have reached WHO’s 90-90-90 goal which aims to have 90% of people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90% of those individuals to be on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of people receiving treatment to be virally suppressed by 2020.

During the visitors’ stay in Seattle, they met with a wide-range of organizations working to eradicate the disease and provide community-health oriented services in the Seattle area. Lifelong, a local nonprofit, provides much needed support services to the HIV/AIDS community by ensuring their clients are well-connected with health insurance, have adequate housing, and have access to nutritious meals through Lifelong’s food program, the Chicken Soup Brigade. Lifelong representatives shared a rich discussion with the visitors around the most effective ways to reach out to HIV/AIDS positive individuals to provide them with much needed assistance and how to develop similar programs in Russia despite restrictive government policies. They discussed Lifelong’s clinical approach of trauma informed care and harm reduction models that operate by looking at someone, assuring them their trauma is valid, and helping them move forward with acceptance. Essential to Lifelong’s efforts is reducing the shame and stigma that surrounds HIV in order to help all clients feel deserving of good health outcomes. Building community through advocacy, strengthening partnerships with other nonprofits, hiring staff that reflect the population they serve, and providing personalized recovery support services is how Lifelong creates sustainable change.

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The visitors also met with staff at Gay City Seattle’s LGBTQ Center whose work focuses on promoting wellness in LGBTQ communities by providing health services, connecting people to resources, fostering arts, and building community. Where Lifelong provides food for the body, Gay City Seattle provides food for the soul. They work with LGBTQ artists to educate and entertain the broader community through a variety of mediums like theatre shows, spoken word, music, dance, film, and literary and visual arts at the Calamus Auditorium – Gay City’s exhibition space for Seattle’s queer arts community. Additionally, they are the leading provider of HIV and STI testing in King County, making their services more accessible by being donation based, walk-in, and offering quick-testing to all. By creating a space where anyone can feel comfortable, they hope to assuage some of the anxieties that come with getting tested and create a space where meaningful conversations can start. mu legend zen The visitors found Gay City’s inclusive space to be an inspiring model of community-oriented activism.

At Newport High School, located in Bellevue, visitors met with Newport students to learn about the school’s unique advanced health class, the AIDS Student Peer Educators at Newport (ASPEN) program. In ASPEN, students learn extensively about HIV/AIDS, its prevalence in all areas of the world, and how to effectively communicate prevention methods to their peers in engaging, visual, and fun ways. mu legend items for sale ASPEN students, sporting t-shirts with “Don’t just do it” on one sleeve and “GET TESTED” on the other, led the Russian visitors through seven different stations demonstrating a typical ASPEN education workshop designed for their fellow students. Students at one station highlighted the HIV epidemic in Africa while at another station students explained how HIV infects the body. It was clear by the end of the workshop, the ASPEN students had captivated the attention of the Russian visitors. The visitors were excited about youth becoming more involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy and activism, working to dispel stereotypes surrounding HIV-positive individuals, and that a public school would allow such a productive program to be a part of their curriculum. Witnessing firsthand the enthusiasm and ability of youth to lead outreach and prevention efforts offered the visitors an optimistic view of how the situation in Russia could be improved.

At home, the visitors face a daunting challenge. According to UNAIDS, Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world. Adidas italia Factory Outlet The rate of HIV infection is rising 10 to 15 percent each year at a pace comparable to the infection rate in the United States in the 1980s. Stigma surrounding the disease, ignorance about sex education, and government indifference have all contributed to the crisis. Support programs and harm reduction interventions face substantial barriers in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Needle exchange programs, which have been proven in countries worldwide to decrease HIV transmission, receive little funding and Russian NGOs working to combat the HIV epidemic can be labeled as foreign agents under restrictive laws that seek to stigmatize organizations that rely on foreign contributions. Additionally, the ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” or the so-called LGBT propaganda law enacted in 2013 has been linked to a rise in HIV infections in the nonheterosexual community. Even disseminating HIV prevention information to this group is forbidden and individuals are increasingly avoiding seeking out testing and treatment due to the severe discrimination. Despite these obstacles, the visitors were encouraged by their experience in Seattle, though they realistically acknowledge the long road ahead for addressing their country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Thanks to the work of public and private organizations in the Seattle area, individuals living with HIV/AIDS have a strong community in the city to fall back on. The Russian visitors were grateful for the opportunity to witness these different forces at work, and their Seattle counterparts were eager to learn more about the steadfast and courageous efforts of these visitors to build a better future for the HIV/AIDS community in Russia.