HIV rates are going down in the country but remain high in Nevada. Why—especially when new antiviral drugs to prevent infection are available?
“It tells us that there is still a lot of more work to do,” Antioco Carrillo, the executive director of Aid for AIDS of Nevada, known as AFAN, told KNPR's State of Nevada. “We still have to be able to tackle certain areas and preconceptions people have about HIV”
AFAN has been helping people living with HIV and AIDS for 35 years, and recently moved into a new facility on Sahara Avenue.
In 2017, more than 430 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Nevada.
Carrillo said the numbers show that more than one person is diagnosed with HIV on a daily basis in Nevada. He said there are several factors for the state being higher than the national average, including that we're a tourist destination.
“We live in a city where we get people to come here and have a great time. But we aren’t telling them what they need to be doing,” he said.
He's not blaming tourists for bringing the disease to the city, but a message of a good time with no worries has ramifications.
“That – at some level – has some other consequences especially when we’re looking at HIV,” he said.
He also believes people are getting a mixed message about sex. On one side, sex is moralized or explained as being forbidden but media messages are full of sexualized images.
Carrillo believes people are given the message to be sexually active without being told what the risks are.
In addition to those factors, the images of AIDS-ravaged patients that were seen during the '80s and '90s are largely gone. Carrillo said people have a belief that medications have stopped the epidemic.
“I’m glad we have the option to use medication, but at the same time, it brings this sense that HIV is no longer a problem. It is a problem,” he said.
To address that problem, the Southern Nevada Health District announced a call to action last year to prevent more cases and increase screening of both HIV and sexually transmitted infections, the latter on the rise in Clark County and increasing the risk of HIV transmission.
AFAN responded by offering testing at its facility, better enabling people to know their status and, should they be diagnosed with the virus, get information about treatment right away.
Carrillo hopes the nonprofit's new building on Sahara Avenue will help streamline services for new patients and longtime clients.
“We have consolidated services. We have the ability to move to a more concrete place," he said.
The new space is in the same building as a medical clinic that partners with AFAN.
“Part of the strategy for us to really make more effective the services was to attach ourselves to a medical provider so that we could be down the hall," he said, "We know we lose patients or clients when they are referred to a medical provider that is on the other side of the town or even five blocks from where we are.”
The services go the other way as well. If the medical office gets a new HIV or AIDS patient they can refer him or her down the hall to AFAN, which provides mental health services, housing help, case management, medical transportation and a dietician.
Antioco Carrillo, executive director, AFAN