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Pharmacist Breannie Charles says HIV is no longer a death sentence

Breannie Charles says there are still false stigmas surrounding HIV

Breannie Charles is a certified HIV pharmacist who works for Avita Pharmacy, specializing in HIV care, treatment, and prevention. Charles has been committed to helping patients living with HIV take the proper measures to increase their quality of life while also helping others who want to prevent getting HIV.

Charles spoke with rolling out about HIV within the Black community, treatments, and the false stigmas surrounding HIV.

Why do you think HIV/AIDS has become such a stigma within the Black community?

With the data right now, Black men, Black MSM – men who have sex with men – we are seeing the most new HIV diagnoses still in that community. Black people overall, we’re still seeing more, or the highest number of new HIV diagnoses, which is very sad because we have really great treatment for PrEP and for PEP to help prevent HIV infection. So what’s going on? Why is it that we’re still having these high rates? It’s a combination of multiple things. One is education. So knowing about PrEP and knowing about PEP, having and knowing about HIV overall, and where we are today as far as the treatment goes [could help].

It’s not the death sentence it was when it first came out, just like with COVID. With COVID, when it came out four years ago, we didn’t know much about it. We didn’t have a lot of treatments for it, so our mortality and morbidity, or the rate of death or rate of sickness and illness was very high because we were learning about this. The same thing with HIV when we learned about it first in the ’80s, but now we are decades out, and we have patients that are living into older age and geriatric age. A lot of our patient populations are in their 60s and 70s, [people] who were first diagnosed years ago. So what does that mean? Our treatments are working, we’re making great advances, and people are living long and healthy lives with HIV. I think we need to understand the education behind it, knowing what it is, and knowing that even if you have this diagnosis, it’s okay to talk about it. It shouldn’t be a stereotype; it’s a chronic illness, and people are doing well with it and understanding how it’s transmitted.

How should someone living with HIV/AIDS have that conversation with their loved ones?

That’s something that can be difficult to navigate, especially if you’re in the dating scene in the dating world. Just having a simple, honest conversation. “This is my status. I’ve been diagnosed with this.” If you’re receiving treatment, let your partner know where you are in your treatment, and if you’re undetectable or not. There’s a campaign out there called U=U, and it’s undetectable equals untransmittable. We have noticed over the years that data tells us that undetectable patients have less than a 1% chance of transmitting it over. That’s important, and that’s a good discussion to have with a partner because what does that mean as far as engaging in sexual intercourse with your partner? If the partner who is HIV positive is undetectable, then there’s a very low risk of transmitting, but the partner who is HIV negative, they may want to further protect themselves, and there are options such as PrEP. Also, if that partner is thinking about conceiving, conceiving is still an option; we just make sure that the partner who is HIV negative is on PrEP, and especially if it’s the woman, we want to make sure that she’s on PrEP and make sure that she doesn’t acquire HIV while they are trying to conceive.

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