The first reported cases of the virus that would eventually be known as HIV first started appearing in New York and San Francisco in 1980. Eight years later, a local nonprofit sprung up in defense of those whose lives had been impacted by the virus and the hurtful stigma attached to it. Just over 30 years later, the AIDS Resource Alliance, with offices in Williamsport and State College, continues to serve 12 central Pennsylvania counties with HIV case management and prevention services.
Though HIV is treatable today, the challenges of navigating the health care system can be stressful for anyone, let alone an individual living with a chronic illness. AIDS Resource Alliance utilizes a team of case managers who are trained to help their clients with insurance, housing, treatment and other issues that impact the lives of persons living with HIV. Twice-monthly support groups give clients a chance to share their experiences and struggles within a safe space where judgment and stigma are not allowed.
AIDS Resource Alliance also provides prevention services to the communities they serve. HIV and STI testing are available free of charge during office hours, as are condoms and other harm reduction materials. Each testing client is also provided with risk-reduction education, and general education services are available to local agencies and organizations who want their members to learn more about HIV and sexual health.
Much has changed since the earliest days of the epidemic, and the staff at AIDS Resource are preparing for the future with programming that addresses the new landscape of HIV in America. PrEP, the daily medication that can prevent HIV infection, is prescribed free in the Williamsport offices, as are the required testing and physical examinations necessary to continue the medication (the cost of the drug is the responsibility of the patient, but the AIDS Resource team can assist the client in applying for programs that assist in covering the cost of the drug.) As the population of people living with HIV enters their 60s and beyond, support group and other focused social activities enable clients to maintain positive social connections. Counseling services are provided free of charge to clients who request them.
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In terms of prevention, clients all receive education regarding U = U, or Undetectable = Untransmittable. Recent studies have proven that persons living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus to others. Sharing this information with the public is part of AIDS Resource Alliance’s fight to end stigma in their communities.
In 40 years, the reality of living with HIV has changed immensely. More change is certain, and AIDS Resource Alliance is dedicated to meeting those changes, and helping their clients and neighbors do the same.