I’m an HIV/AIDS Activist. Stacey Abrams is Committed to Stopping the Spread of HIV in Georgia.

By David Hardy, HIV/AIDS Activist

David Hardy is an HIV/AIDS activist in Atlanta, GA.

A couple of years ago, three friends of mine started to get sick. We could not figure out why. It turns out they were HIV-positive — and they were hardly alone. In 2015, Atlanta had the highest rate of new cases of HIV among U.S. cities.

Determined to help my friends live stigma-free, normal lives, I started working with a local state representative, Park Cannon. We set out to educate Atlantans about how HIV is spread — it’s amazing how few people understand it — and we hosted a workshop to try to get out the root cause of the problem in our state.

The spread of HIV is a public health issue, and the causes are multifaceted. There’s still a huge stigma around the virus — people are reluctant to talk about it at all, let alone how they got it or how others can avoid it. Some think you can contract it just from kissing, or even holding hands. Too many are unfamilar with PrEP, a pill which helps prevent contraction. But there’s a common thread throughout: HIV tends to spread in areas where people do not have adequate access to health care.

Georgia’s next governor has a great opportunity to help fix this problem — and that’s why I’m supporting Stacey Abrams. She knows what it is like to live without health insurance, so she has fought tirelessly to expand Medicaid in our state — a first step in making sure we are healthy. Once more Georgians are insured, people can get tested sooner and have access to the preventative measures they need — we can reverse the tide of HIV infections here in Georgia.

It isn’t just about access to testing services, either. In Georgia, heroin plays a key role in the spread of HIV — but heroin usage could be greatly reduced with both access to mental health services and a system that works with addicts to overcome their addiction, rather than punishing them. Abrams’ brother is bipolar, but he remained undiagnosed until late in life. Meanwhile, he self-medicated with drugs. He was arrested, but the system didn’t rehabilitate him. He relapsed. Abrams has seen the failings of a justice system — and the consequences of being unable to access mental health services — with her own eyes, and has dedicated much of her career to addressing both of these issues.

We need a governor like Stacey Abrams who is willing to push back against the stigma associated with the virus while also addressing the root causes of its spread. I have no doubt that Stacey Abrams is qualified to spearhead policies that will help reduce cases of infection in Georgia, and be a champion for those living with HIV.

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