World Aids Day is Dec. 1, and San Antonio is marking the one year anniversary of its participation in an international program to get people tested, diagnosed, and treated for the disease.
Jacob Castrejana helped mark the anniversary outside the Municipal Plaza Building in downtown San Antonio. He was diagnosed HIV positive more than a decade ago, but for a long time he hid his diagnosis and didn’t seek treatment.
Castrejana said he was scared of people’s reaction. Then he met the woman who is now his wife. She insisted that he start treatment. Now his viral load is undetectable.
“When I go to see my doctor for my routine visits he assures me I can live a long and healthy life on my medications,” Castrejana said. “Actually, he lectures me more about my cholesterol than my HIV.”
San Antonio Metro Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger says getting people diagnosed and treated are among the goals of the city's year-old Fast-Track Cities program. Bridger said the program is an international initiative to address what’s going on around the world with HIV and tackle it openly and with data.
Over the last year, Fast-Track in San Antonio cut the length of time it takes for someone who tests positive to get into treatment by nearly half. It has also increased the number of people tested through the city's mobile unit to 4,000 in a year to 4,000 in a month. But Bridger says she has more ambitious goals for next year at this time.
"I'd love to be able to stand up at that podium and say 90 percent of HIV positive people know their status, 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV have been connected to medical resources and started treatment, and 90 percent of people on treatment have reduced their viral load to zero," Bridger said.
She also would like to see the stigma around those testing positive for HIV to disappear. Jacob Castrejana said that's why he's now talking publicly about his status. He wants people to know an HIV diagnosis is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a death sentence, and HIV positive people — like he and his wife — can go on to have full and happy lives. They are now the parents of three healthy children who are all HIV negative.
"The shame is actually the bigger problem because people don't want to talk about it, they don't want to get tested, and that is what inevitably leads to the more spreading of HIV," Castrejana said.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie