Monday, September 25th, 2017

Learning To Decrease HIV Stigma

Tyrone Lofton

I will never forget the day I was walking to class prepared to take my sociology exam and all of a sudden I received a call informing me that a mutual friend was in the hospital. “It’s not looking good,” are words you never want to hear. My friend was in the hospital suffering effects from the HIV virus.  In her twenties, she should have had an expectation of a long life in front of her. The HIV virus is no longer a death sentence because of continuing research and medical advances to treat the virus. I believe stigma may have been the reason her health was declining; I can only imagine people may have assumed she was irresponsible or immoral for contracting HIV. Unfortunately, she passed away not too long after that.

The summer before my senior year in high school she and I had worked together as MetroTeenAIDS peer educators but I didn’t know she was facing the disease herself. We were trained to give HIV/AIDS 101 presentations at local high schools and recreation centers. She would joke and laugh with everyone and had an unforgettable smile that could brighten your day when you were feeling blue. The day the news broke that my friend was struggling with HIV led me to so many emotions and thoughts. I was in college by then, so one of my thoughts was that I’m on the right track as science major at the very least I could become more scientifically literate about the virus and educate others as well.

I joined a group on campus called Project Safe, which also had me presenting HIV/AIDS 101 sessions. I joined because I wanted to know what students knew about the virus so I could educate them on any falsehoods. For instance, some people still believe that you can get HIV from sharing a drink, kissing, or sharing gym equipment. My goal was to decrease the stigma of HIV/AIDS and most importantly, give students the tools to prevent transmission of HIV. To some, HIV can be an uncomfortable topic, but if we do not educate ourselves better we will make those who have to live with it feel even more isolated.

Scientist are currently working on combating HIV through gene therapy. Gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent diseases. There are currently clinical trials going on for a gene therapy called OZ1 developed by researchers in California and Australia. This therapy works by making CD4+ T-cells resistant to HIV infection. I love the thought that one day as a physician I might be able to recommend gene therapy to a HIV-infected patient.

My friend may no longer be with us now, but she will never be forgotten. For patients dealing with the life battle of fighting HIV, please know I care very much for your well-being. Scientist are providing hope through their research and making breakthroughs. When I put on my white coat I will work to add to that hope by helping people who are living with the virus, building bonds with my patients and showing them I see them as more than a statistic.

A Clinical Trial of Gene Therapy for HIV CATIE – Canada’s Source for HIV and Hepatitis C Information / La Source Canadienne De Renseignements Sur Le VIH Et L’hépatite C, 2009

About Tyrone Lofton

Tyrone Lofton is an undergraduate student at Towson University, in Towson, Maryland. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry & Bioinformatics (MB3) on the biochemistry concentration track. He is a native of Washington, D.C., and a two time AmeriCorps Alum. While not studying for his classes, Tyrone enjoys reading, hiking, rock-climbing, and horseback riding. He also likes to spend time with his 15 year old mentee who he was partnered with through a non-profit that provides mentors to youth in the foster care system. He aspires to become a pediatrician.

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