by Margo Hall
In Tennessee, it’s common for sex education to exclude proper information on STD prevention and care. Often the little education most people receive is abstinence-only. While technically valid, it purposefully excludes any information about safe sex and what you should do to prevent spreading STDs and how you should seek treatment if you do get one.
Unfortunately, this practice leaves a lot of people vulnerable to dangerous health risks, including but not limited to HIV. While testing services are widely available now, it can be difficult to know when or if you should get tested, because there is a lot of stereotypes and stigma surrounding STIs, and especially HIV. The short answer is that everyone needs to get tested.
Once you know, then it becomes time to find healthcare, and there are two common problems. The first is finding the right doctor who is also covered by your insurance — if you’re lucky enough to have insurance — and the second is being able to get to the doctor. Often, those doctors are in Nashville, which is convenient if you live in Nashville. However, if you find yourself living in Montgomery County, there is hope. There are non-profits aiming to educate and help you find transportation to your doctor.
These groups are Meae Wellness, Impact HIV, and Pro-Transport. Their goal is to help people learn about these illnesses, spread awareness, and to provide transportation to those who need help. To learn more, I spoke with Jonathan Miller who is the Chief Development Officer for Meae Wellness. This cause is dear to him because Jonathan was born and raised in Clarksville and is also HIV positive. When Jonathan learned of his status, he learned very quickly about the problems with HIV care in Clarksville and it pushed him to make the system better by getting involved himself.
Since joining these organizations, Jonathan has helped to reorganize them to run more efficiently to better serve the community. One of the biggest services they perform is client transportation. Because most of the healthcare resources people need are in Nashville, Pro-Transport helps drive clients to and from their appointments in Montgomery and Davidson counties. Outside of transport, the other mission of Meae Wellness and Impact-HIV is to provide correct and true information to people who need it and to help educate other local organizations and health services to fight the stigma and false information surrounding HIV and STIs. Jonathan told me that one of the biggest battles is fighting the stigma because there is so much false information already out in the community. The stigma affects everything from personal interaction and relationships, to finding and seeking proper healthcare. Mostly because of the large amount of misinformation stemming from the stigma.
So, to help fight this, the organization is partnering with service providers to help them learn about the stigma surrounding HIV and other STIs so they can provide better care to people they serve. The important part of this, Jonathan tells me, is this “puts the pressure on the community instead of the clients.” The goal is to help build and reinforce healthcare services in their area. Outside of partnerships, Meae Wellness is also doing other things to help fight stigma and to help offer protection to its clients. The first you might notice is their concern for the privacy of those who come seeking help. They want to appear as any other healthcare non-profit so that no one must fear to approach them and finding themselves being ostracized.
I asked Jonathan for some simple advice people should know about HIV. He wants people to know that HIV does not discriminate and that anyone can be affected by it if they don’t take precautions to protect themselves by getting tested and practicing safe sex. He went on by saying; “Its only discriminating factor is our actions because they are the only barrier we have. The only choice needs to be protection, and personal protection is all we have.” He also wanted anyone who is recently positive to know that, “You aren’t alone, and this isn’t the end. Get the right information and care, and everything will be okay.”
If you would like to contact these organizations whether it be for personal reasons, to volunteer, or to simply learn more; Impact HIV has a crisis line that is open 24/7 (931-820-0265), or you can email them at email@example.com. For Meae Wellness you can call 931-431-8110 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.