BY CRAIG COLEY
For the first time in the 17 years that Jill Stowers has been working in the field, she has hope of slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“When you look over the history of the disease, we never stopped having new infections,” says Stowers, clinical lead manager of Positive Link, an IU Health program that provides medical and other services to HIV-positive people. “In Indiana, we have around 500 new infections a year, and that’s been true for 20 years. We’ve done better with medication and we’ve done better with life expectancy, but roughly the same number of people are getting infected every year in our state.”
Last year, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that HIV-positive people receiving antiretroviral therapy can lower virus levels to the point that they won’t transmit the disease through sexual contact. In another development, those at risk of acquiring the disease can take a daily pill that effectively prevents them from becoming infected—a treatment known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
In December, Positive Link opened a primary care clinic at 333 E. Miller Drive in order to take advantage of these developments. The clinic, open on Tuesdays, offers PrEP to people at risk of infection and provides primary care to those who have been coming to IU Health for HIV-specific care but who have had to go elsewhere for primary care. The goal is to bring more HIV-positive people into active care and keep them there.
Stowers says 79 percent of Positive Link’s clients have virus levels low enough that they will not sexually transmit the disease; across the state, only 59 percent are virally suppressed. She hopes Positive Link can close that gap.
Created in 1991 out of Bloomington’s Community AIDS Action Group, Positive Link has one other office (in Terre Haute) but serves 47 central Indiana counties, most of them remotely. Now Positive Link is opening offices in Muncie, Lafayette, and Paoli.
“What we’re doing as a health system is trying to throw our weight into making this impact in HIV across the state,” Stowers says. “If you pair these two clinical aspects and have them readily available in a community, then you can really impact transmission rates.”
The South Central Indiana AIDS Walk, an annual fundraiser for Positive Link, will be held April 13. Learn more at btownaidswalk.org.
For more information about Positive Link, visit magbloom.com/positivelink.