For Rosetta Randall, diagnosed with HIV four years ago, consistent and personal health care has improved her life. “Considering the lifestyle I led, now I can be here for my kids and my grand kids.”
At a gathering in Berkeley on Tuesday, patients and community health providers marked 25 years of the Ryan White CARE Act that brought affordable health care to people living with HIV/AIDS. The legislation, passed in 1990, was named after Ryan White, a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with HIV. In Alameda County, the HIV ACCESS network of community health centers and the Alameda Health Systems public hospital deliver these services. It operates within the broader Alameda Health Consortium that supports the network by boosting collaboration, advocacy and analysis.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson spoke of the power of a network. “We have to ensure that our community-based network… not only treats individuals who have HIV and AIDS, but is also out there helping to deal with prevention. It’s not alone, it’s connected to our school system, it’s connected to our senior centers, to our businesses, it’s connected to our faith-based communities.”
Connection also means a personal connection for Randall who receives care at Tri-City Health Center. “They know you by name. They notice when you haven’t been in. ‘Where’ve you been, Rosetta?’ they’ll say.”
Patient Francisco Segura added, “I go to the same clinic I did 11 years ago. Same doctor, same staff. They know me and don’t treat me as a charity case or a number.”
Personal care means linguistically and culturally aligned care for Dr. Sophy Wong of Asian Health Services and medical director of HIV ACCESS network. “It’s in the communities, in their own language and sees beyond stereotypes.” The Ryan White Program has allowed the network to provide early intervention, primary care, testing and counseling, antiretroviral therapy and other treatments.
While the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Alameda has dropped in the past 25 years, the urgency of the network’s mission remains. “Even though today we’re not getting daily headlines about HIV/AIDS in this country, it’s still prevalent,” said Carson. “You hear almost every day of young people who are catching it even in high school, of seniors who are catching it at over 65 years. In Alameda County, over 6,000 people that we know of are living with HIV and AIDS, so it’s really important that as we get the word out about health to include HIV/AIDS as a part of that discussion. We have to continue to educate people everyday about how do we protect ourselves and for those who, unfortunately, have contracted the disease how to live with it.”
Dr. John Moroney of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was also on hand to share the federal context. Nationally, the Ryan White program service 500,000 people, 71 percent of whom are from racial/ethnic minority populations, 67 percent at or below poverty level. Of the 81 percent of patients retained in care, 78 percent are virally suppressed. (Program statistics – US Health and Human Services). Read here for more on the vision of a generation free of of HIV/AIDS and for details about goals and strategies.
(Photos: Joel Aguiar)