ACRIA's HIV 101: Helping People Cope with an HIV Diagnosis
Imagine sitting in your doctor's office, nervously awaiting your test results. She comes in after what seems like an eternity, and she gives you the bad news. Your entire world has been turned upside down. You are HIV-positive.
How did this happen? What am I going to do? How long am I going to live? Who do I need to tell? How do I tell them? How am I ever going to date again? What will my friends and family think?
Finding out that you have HIV can be one of the most frightening, confusing, and isolating times in a person's life. It is also a time when a newly diagnosed person must quickly understand the virus, its effect on the body, treatment options, available services and a whole host of complex issues. Although your doctor may be your primary resource for this information, his or her time to work with you is severely limited. And there are so many issues and questions that will arise that won't be able to wait for your next visit . . .
Thanks to the generous support of The Keith Haring Foundation, ACRIA began "HIV 101" in January 2014 in response to the lack of HIV education services for the newly infected in New York City. Despite the overwhelming numbers of people with HIV in the five boroughs, no one was providing regular opportunities for people with HIV to learn about the disease. This was unacceptable.
In the first 18 months of the program, we have helped hundreds of New Yorkers learn how to take better care of themselves and ensure that they live long, healthy lives through our monthly workshops and individual counseling. Based on these numbers and the feedback we have received, "AIDS 101" is now an essential resource for people throughout the city.
Trying to cope with a positive diagnosis can become overwhelming. Our aim is to allay people's fears, dispel myths about HIV, and provide participants with the knowledge they need to live successfully with the disease. Our workshops encourage participants to be engaged in their HIV healthcare and services. We provide simple guidance on discussing medications with doctors, and also cover vital topics such as viral loads, CD4 counts, medication side effects, and understanding lab results. One participant emailed us after attending his first session:
"The information I received from the workshop was outstanding and lifesaving. It helped me cope with a preliminary HIV positive test result, and provided me with real statistical data indicating that with changes in lifestyle and adherence to medication, I would likely live a long and healthy life with HIV. ACRIA connected me with many resources, including an excellent support group."
Another participant told one of our educators that although he had been diagnosed with HIV in 2000, 95% of what he knew he learned through our workshops. Still another noted:
"I not only felt calmer and reassured, but I also had the tools to protect myself and prevent transmission of HIV. ACRIA's staff was supportive, honest, and non-judgmental and probably the reason that I managed to cope with (and literally survive) this shocking diagnosis."
This series of workshops - the only one of its kind in New York City - is an essential lifeline for both the newly diagnosed and those who have lived with HIV for years. As the words of our workshop participants show, the education we have provided has been key to their understanding of the disease, how to manage it, and ensuring that they remain healthy. We are committed to this work but need your help to ensure that these workshops are available for those who need them most in the coming year. Please consider a gift that will provide much-needed education to those who need it most. Together, we can make this program a permanent resource for any New Yorker who needs us in their greatest time of need. Thank you.