By Sarah Stone
CAROLINA REPORTER & NEWS
William Murray felt disappointed when he tested positive for HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, in 2014. He did not, however, feel despair.
Murray knew that with immediate treatment and the right medication, he could live a high quality of life. His friend, however, had to learn this decision the hard way.
“My friend tested positive in 2007, but he didn’t tell anyone and he got really sick and we had to nurse him back to health,” Murray, peer adherence coach with the South Carolina HIV Council, said. “He had an AIDS-related illness and he really didn’t want his family to know.”
Murray’s experience with his friend inspired him to begin advocating for HIV awareness and ultimately to become involved with the South Carolina HIV Council.
“I pretty much feel like if I went and showed people that it’s okay, and that if you’re in treatment you can live a normal life," Murray said. "Then the stigma would slowly fade away.”
This war against AIDS is especially hard fought in South Carolina, which has the eighth most cases of AIDS of anywhere in the nation, according to Avert.
The stigma against HIV is the biggest battle in the war against AIDS. This stigma, combined with fear of the disease, keep many people from getting tested, and therefore from getting treated in time to lead a high quality of life.
“There’s still that fear that this is a death sentence. It’s no longer a death sentence," S.C. HIV Council employee Vivian Clark Armstead said. "There’s also the stigma why people don’t want to know their status. Because they think that if you get tested that means that you are engaging in certain behaviors. It means it has stigmatized certain racial and ethnic groups. It has sometimes taken on a connotation that it was disease that was among sex workers.”
Armstead believes that compassion for those suffering from AIDS plays a pivotal role in fighting these stigmas.
“I feel that anyone who has an opportunity to be involved, to advocate or to just be a support system for someone living with HIV, you should have the utmost empathy and the utmost compassion, because the only difference between us and someone living with HIV is grace and mercy,” Armstead said.
People also often avoid getting tested because they assume they are not at risk. However, Armstead emphasizes that females need to realize that it may be the actions of their partner, not themselves, that put them at risk.
“It’s vital that people know their status, because the earlier we know, then the earlier we can get them into treatment and care,” Armstead said.
Armstead believes that education and awareness alone will not be enough to end AIDS in South Carolina.
“We need to have our city invest,” Armstead said. “We need to have our state invest.”
Until then, the state will continue to suffer.
“It’s right here crippling our community, our friends, our coworkers, our everyone,” Murray said.
The S.C. HIV Council offers free testing at the Joseph H. Neil Wellness Center on 1803 Laurel St. during normal business hours Monday through Friday. Testing is also offered during extended hours every other Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Insert link to web address for the Council.