It is estimated that 10% of people with HIV in Puerto Rico do not know they have a condition.
The latest statistics from the Ministry of Health suggest that the island has 18,200 people with this condition and that two out of every three people with HIV are 45 years of age or older. Although the biggest transmission is from men who have sex with men, one in three who live with HIV on the island are heterosexual.
"The biggest challenge is the relationship with new diagnoses of HIV. Some are not treated or started immediately (after diagnosis). That connection must be made on or 30 days after the diagnosis"Said Jomiri Reyes, planning an analyst for the Ryan Bella Program, Part B / ADAP, Department of Health.
With federal funds, the Ryan White program provides treatment and support for people with HIV through over 55 providers in eight government clinics and 330 centers.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a person with HIV with a suppressed or invisible viral load has a condition under control.
Today, marking the World Day for HIV Response, El Nuevo Dia shares the tales of brave survivors who offered their testimonies.
Joey Ponce: Accept activism
His diagnosis of HIV came 31 years ago and since then Joey Pon has accepted activism as a way to help him take over his condition. In 1990, along with Moisés Agosto, he published "Poemas de lógica inmunológico", a poetic book that deals with various aspects of HIV. He was also part of ACT UP, a non-profit organization founded by Larry Kramer.
"Activism is persistent in my life. That helped me a lot"Pons said, 51. Because of the religiousness he took over the treatment, Pons emphasizes that he keeps HIV under control.
"There are side effects, but they do not bother me as much as they lose my life or have poor quality of life," he said, noting that his viral load is invisible and he only takes one medication daily.
"The most terrible is the stigma associated with HIV that prevents many people from being tested. As this continues, the epidemic will not end"He complained, noting the support he received from his family and his partner.
Rose Rivera: She has control
After a non-consensual sexual relationship, "Scream" attacked the body of Rosa Rivera Aviles. It was while she was in the conclusion that this 56-year-old woman came to reconcile with the HIV diagnosis she received a few months earlier, back in 1997. She even decided to name a virus that entered her body without an invitation, "Crunch"
"I realized that I was too small to kill myself"He said, remembering that one of his initial concerns was to leave his two orphan children.
With the appropriate treatment, Rivera Aviles not only managed to face his diagnosis, but also for the past 21 years also fought for the rights of people living with HIV. One of the latest initiatives in which it works is to encourage more people to know their diagnosis and start treatment.
"With the international campaign "Day of Leaving the Suit of HIV", which is celebrated on November 30, we are striving to test and stop the diagnosis"Said the retired social worker.
Ansellmo Fonseca: says no discrimination
Initially, Anselmo Fonseca went into the denial process after learning that his then partner tested positive for HIV. At the age of four, in 1995, he moved from Florida to Puerto Rico and, together with his mother, was tested for HIV to take on his diagnosis.
In 1996, along with prominent activist Jose Fernando Colón, they decided to start "famous cocktails" because it was known for HIV treatment due to the number of pills that the patient should take from this condition on a daily basis, more than ten.
"Before, stigma and discrimination were very strong. We looked weak and it was obvious that we were sick. The rejection was immediate. Future generations did not live it, although there are still stigma in the institutions and some health workers. For example, the dental service has always been a problem"Said Fonseca, 56, who stressed the support of his family, and then colleague Colon, leader of SIDA Pro Sana's patients until his death five years ago.
Laurensis Thomas: a bet on young people
Laurensis Thomas was born with HIV 30 years ago with a vertical transmission (from mother to child). He used 13 medications to keep his condition in the bay, but, after his mother's death, he stopped the treatment for some time. At present, only three drugs a day are needed.
"In childhood I had experiences of rejection and discrimination, but in adulthood I managed to handle them better, making decisions about who you want in your life"He said.
In the past 10 years, Thomas is committed to activism and work with community organizations and local and international entities. One of his latest efforts is within the Youth Group with HIV Pangea, which already has a presence in San Juan and will soon start another group in the west.
"(I'm sorry) "Pompeier" because recruiting young people to participate is very complex. We do this in our free time, no pay"He said that when he explains the following projects: workshop for women living with HIV in sexual matters.
Jose Diaz: advocating for a cure
Jose Diaz was diagnosed with HIV 22 years ago, when the mention of the subject was "taboo" and there were "many myths". However, from the beginning, he had the support of his family, mainly his sister, who took care of him and sheltered her at home for the first three months after the diagnosis.
"I worked in the Department of Health and received me very well in my work (when I came back). They were very good companions and many are still my friends"The 67-year-old said. Three years after the diagnosis, he adopted activism.
"There were drug-related problems, but that's what we need to be alive. What we want now is to work with the medicine and the vaccine"He firmly believes in the effectiveness of PrEP (a drug that helps prevent the transmission of HIV), Diaz has participated in three clinical trials on several treatments." From the very beginning, I said I should choose life, "he said.
HIV in Puerto Rico
- In 2017, 442 people with HIV were diagnosed in the country.
- The rate of diagnosis in adults and adolescents older than 13 years was 15.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- That year, men accounted for 79.9% of new diagnoses.
- Sex between men without protection was the main mode of transmission (46.8%), followed by unprotected heterosexual contact (34.4%).
- One in three people diagnosed with HIV in 2017 live in the metropolitan region.
- The rate of diagnosis in men is 4.3 times greater than in women.
- Two cases of HIV infection are reported daily in Puerto Rico.
- From 1981 to October 31, 2018, a total of 49,315 people with HIV were reported in Puerto Rico.
- In the same period, 29,096 deaths of people living with HIV on the island were reported.
- 77.3% of reported cases progressed to phase 3 of HIV infection (AIDS).
- 34.9% of diagnoses occurred between ages 25 and 34.
- 42.1% occurred in intravenous drug users.
- 677 children aged 0-12 years were diagnosed with HIV between 1981 and 2012.
- 90.2% of these cases were perinatal transmission.
- Since 2012 there have been no reports of HIV in children in Puerto Rico.
Source: HIV / AIDS Surveillance Program, Department of Epidemiology, Department of Health.