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Opinion

What Does a Cure Mean to You? Four Individuals Share Their Hopes and Fears

January 18, 2018

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LeSherri James

LeSherri James (Courtesy of LeSherri James)

LeSherri James

LeSherri James is a 35-year-old mother of two. She's been living with HIV since 2000 when, at the age of 17, she was raped by an HIV-positive man who later died of AIDS.

Today, James works to support other HIV-positive women at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. She echoes the sentiment that a cure for HIV would change the world, and that talking about it is essential.

Her 14-year-old daughter and four-year-old son are both HIV-negative. LeSherri's HIV-status is especially difficult for her daughter because of the social stigma that comes with the disease.

"Growing up in the black community, what happens at home stays at home," she says. She says the culture of not talking about HIV extends to other ethnic groups as well. Cultural factors can intensify the loneliness for many people, and she says lots of women with whom she works are afraid to talk about HIV with family; instead, they struggle alone.  

For James, deepening the conversation about HIV with an awareness of how women and people of color think differently about the virus is a major part of the cure. HIV is still heavily stigmatized and there is often little support, even from families. James says a cure means these families would get their loved ones back.

For her personally, a cure would come with many emotions: knowing that her children could live without stigma, that James herself would not have to take daily medications, cost savings from doctor visits, and most importantly, a second chance at life. "I wouldn't be 'LeSherri James with HIV' anymore," she says. "I would just be LeSherri James again."


Related: Would You Go Off Your HIV Meds for a Cure Study?


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Adaora A. Adimora, M.D., M.P.H.

We've come a long way in treatment and prevention since the height of the HIV epidemic, but for Dr. Adaora Adimora, the need to find a cure is obvious in the work she does.

Adimora is a physician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been working in infectious diseases since the 1980s. In 2013, she was appointed to the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

"I have been close to a lot of people who have HIV, in the course of my work and my personal life," she says. "One thing that may be very powerful around having a cure, and may be the most important thing, in addition to the obvious health benefits, is the extent to which it will get rid of the stigma that has so often and unreasonably been associated with HIV."

The road to finding a cure is a complicated process and past research has primarily included men. Though she doesn't describe herself as a cure researcher, she has given it a great deal of thought.

"As a physician, my major motive is to eliminate pain and suffering in whatever way possible and [a cure] would go a long way towards this," she says. For Adimora, it is important for research to be inclusive from the beginning rather than to have a cure developed that benefits one segment of the population, such as men, and not others, such as women. Likewise, research must include people of color and take into consideration the widening disparities in our access to health.

Adimora reminds us to keep in mind both how far we have progressed in HIV research and treatment, but how fragile our gains are. She is particularly worried about the constant threats now to tear down the health care and social service programs that have begun to cut infections and deaths in a significant way, programs needed to help deliver a cure.

When asked what we could do to help find a cure, Adimora offers this suggestion. "I urge people to stay 'woke,'" she says. "We are in danger. They need to make sure that they stay abreast of this stuff and pay attention and go to the polls. And support access to healthcare for all -- and research."

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
 

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