AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin’s population increases, so do the number of people living with HIV. More than 5,000 people are currently living with the disease in the Greater Austin Area.
“We are seeing a younger generation that knows about HIV but doesn’t think of it as a big of a concern, “said Paul Scott, executive director for AIDS Services of Austin. “Not until you’re diagnosed and you have that HIV positive test result does it really kind of dawn on you that it’s a lifelong commitment to taking medications and trying to stay healthy.”
He believes young people have become complacent because of new advances in medicine that help manage the disease. Medicines like Atripla, which is three HIV pills in one, was approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 2006 help people live with the disease.
“It’s gone from an automatic death sentence to now we can manage it as a chronic disease,” Scott explained. “That is a success but with success comes the consequences that people think it’s easily treatable and it’s just not.”
Scott believes with less media attention there is a false perception that HIV/AIDS is not a problem anymore, when in fact it still is.
Nationally 42 percent of new HIV cases are in people under the age of 30. In a public health report conducted by the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department, between 2010 and 2012, there were 815 new cases of HIV infections and 457 new AIDS cases.
“No one wants to see a younger generation experiencing what we experienced back in the 80s,” said one man who was diagnosed with the HIV in 1989 when he was 26.
“Everything I do, every decision I make is through a lens of health care,” said Scott. “I can’t pick up and go and just say I’m going to move somewhere and stay off the grid and take a job somewhere, I have to think about this in terms of access to health care.”
The study, which was released in this year and collected data from 2006 to 2012, states that 88 percent of the new HIV cases were males and 75 percent were men who had sex with other men.
Groups like The Q-Austin work to get the word out to the most at risk community in Austin.
“Our primary focus is young men who sleep with men between the ages of 18 and 29,” said Marcus Sanchez, The Q-Austin promotion specialist. “We create a warm environment to express themselves and give them tools to empower their decisions on sexual health.”
Sanchez said he believes young men haven’t seen the effects of HIV and AIDS like prior generations and can see how some may think popping a pill can cure everything. But they want to offer more education around that and explain how the disease impacts a person for the rest of their life.
“A lot of what we do is start those conversations and engage them in conversations on sexual health,” said Sanchez.