In Philadelphia, Groups Offer Hope, Resources to HIV-Positive Latinos

"I want to support and be there for others because I didn't have that support"

Jorian Rivera is not afraid to share his story.

“I am a queer Latino boy living with HIV here in Philadelphia," he said. "Not a lot of Latinos can say that."

Rivera is HIV positive, but his virus has been undetectable in his blood for the last six years.

He says he’s happy, thriving, and dedicating his life to changing the narrative around HIV by working with a group that helps LGBTQ Philadelphians, regardless of citizenship status.

"I want to be that person to change that narrative with them, not for them," Rivera said. "I want to support and be there for others because I didn't have that support."

He's able to do that as an HIV prevention specialist at GALAEI, a non-profit that offers prevention services like free and confidential HIV and STI testing, sexual health counseling and access to PrEP, a pill that helps prevent the spread of HIV.

Doctors say a daily PrEP pill reduces a person's risk of contracting the virus by 97 to 99%. Thanks to this medication, Rivera, who was diagnosed as HIV positive six years ago, can live his life knowing the virus is undetectable in his blood.

But getting people access to this medication still poses a challenge.

"We noticed that the people who were at highest risk were not as aware of PrEP," said Greg Seaney-Ariano, of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. In the last five years alone, there has been a 17% increase in Latinos with HIV diagnoses, according to the department.

Rivera said not having legal status and fear of deportation often keeps people from getting tested or treated.

The PDPH has launched English and Spanish campaigns to help inform the public about the benefits of the medication, and others, like Philadelphia FIGHT, have also taken up the cause.

Members of the organization travel to the streets of Philadelphia with a HIV testing van to ensure everyone can know their status.

Both they and GALAEI want to put an end to the misconception that one needs to be a US citizen to be eligible for HIV screening and PrEP access.

"It gets better, it gets easier and it becomes second nature when you have to take a pill. Just take it from somebody who's been doing it for six years now,' Rivera said.

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