San Antonio’s HIV Program Celebrates One Year Of Boosting Testing And Reducing Stigma

Fast-Track Cities,  the San Antonio branch of an international initiative, has significantly cut the length of time it takes for someone who tests positive for HIV to get into treatment.

By Bonnie PetrieNovember 30, 2018 1:20 pm, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Jacob Castrejano is HIV-positive. He was diagnosed well over a decade ago but for a long time he hid his diagnosis.

“‘Cause I was just scared of people’s reaction,” Castrejano says.

And he didn’t get any kind of treatment. Then, he met the woman who is now his wife and she got him into treatment. Now, the virus is nearly undetectable in his blood, and his doctor is more worried about his cholesterol than his HIV.

The City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger says getting people diagnosed and treated is among the goals of the city’s year-old branch of the international program, Fast-Track Cities.

“[It’s] an international initiative to address what’s going on with HIV, and tackle it openly, transparently and with data,” Bridger says.

So far, San Antonio’s program has nearly cut by half the length of time it takes for someone who tests positive for HIV to get into treatment. It has also increased the number of people tested through the city’s mobile unit to 4,000 in a month – up from 4,000 in a year. Bridger says she wants to attain even more ambitious goals by this time next year.

“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 says.

She also would like to see the stigma around those testing positive for HIV disappear, as well as the shame felt by those living with the virus. Jacob Castrejano says that’s why he’s talking about his status.

“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,” Castrejano says.

By the way, Castrejano and his wife, who are both HIV-positive, are the parents of three healthy children who are HIV-negative.