'Not realistic': Durham HIV experts react as Biden pledges to end HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- World AIDS Day is recognized across the globe as a day that raises awareness and remembers the lives lost. This year marks 40 years since the first five cases of HIV were reported. Many people are still living with the virus.

"I actually caught HIV from the husband," said Durham resident Rita McDaniel-Long.

McDaniel-Long has lived with the virus for 27 years and contracted it from her husband, who was an IV drug user.

The stigma around what it means to have HIV today is still prevalent. McDaniel-Long is a part of a growing club she never wanted membership to. Technology advances led to breakthroughs in treatment over the years, which allows her system to suppress the virus.

"Probably back in 2010, I was taking between eight and ten pills a day. Now, I only take two pills," she said. "I have friends now who have had HIV for years. They go to their family's houses and they are still fed off paper plates, paper cups and eating off of plastic spoons."

There are 38 million people living with HIV across the world including 1.2 million in the United States. In North Carolina, 34,963 people have the virus. The highest rate of newly diagnosed cases is among African American men. Data shows the most likely route of transmission was male-to-male sex.

President Joe Biden pledged Wednesday to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

"I'm hopeful, but at the same time, I know it's not realistic. We still have stigma we need to address. There are still underserved communities. Communities who aren't able to access telemedicine," said De'Shea Coney with North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

He said COVID-19 exacerbated HIV rates, which forced some organizations to pivot to COVID outreach. According to Coney, if the president wants to end the epidemic by 2030, funds are needed to increase access to resources.

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In the meantime, McDaniel-Long is encouraging everyone to know their status.

"The life you save may be your own. There's nothing wrong with getting tested," she said.
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