On June 5, 1981, the CDC published their “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” describing five cases of a rare form of pneumonia in generally healthy young men in Los Angeles (CDC 2001). Following this, reports poured in from across the country stating similar cases. This was the beginning of what we know as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.
Since then, the human services field has been on the frontlines combating the spread of this disease. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic changes with new advancements in medicine and technology, so must the role of human services workers.
Human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly referred to as HIV, is a virus that attacks the body’s T-cells. T-cells help our immune systems combat infections. There is no cure or vaccine currently for HIV, but the virus can be managed through the use of antiretroviral medications.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the final phase of HIV infection.
At this point, the virus has depleted the thehost’ss T-cell count to a point that the body can no longer fight off infections (HIV.gov). A person who has AIDS will most often succumb to the disease because of opportunistic infections such as certain types of pneumonia, certain cancers, toxoplasmosis, and tuberculosis.
Human Services The National Organization for Human Services defines human services as a broad field, focused on problem-solving and improving the overall quality of life for the populations served (2017). Human services professions include social workers, corrections workers, mental health workers, assistance case workers, and many other titles.
According to the National Organization for Human Services, the field is projected to continue to grow due to the increased population of service recipients as well as substantial turnover. Because of the wide array of functions provided within the human services field, professionals must be familiar with HIV/AIDS.
From the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., it has been the responsibility of the human services field to not only educate about the epidemic but provide treatment and other services. By themid-1980’ss the Department of Health and Human Services had created education programs for schools and community outreach centers (CDC 2001). Many programs and procedures instituted by the human services field regarding HIV/AIDS are still in place today such as behavior intervention programs focusing on safer sex practices and precautions for intravenous drug users. In the mid’90ss initiatives began to provide affordable testing and increase financial assistance for treatment via Medicaid and Social Security (CDC 2001).
Human services professionals also shouldered the task of managing the social impact by decreasing the stigma associated with the disease through education.
Today, human services workers still provide many of the same services. The mental portion of the human services support network for the HIV/AIDS population has grown, and many professionals find themselves working across multiple domains to provide services to this population. Joe Vanny Perez, a social worker in New York, described his experiences as a social worker at an AIDS clinic in an article for The New Social Worker. He explained that his experiences were not just related to assisting clients with getting their medication but a list of other duties including counseling, advocacy, and outreach (2012). One of the biggest changes in how human service workers handle clients with HIV/AIDS today versus 20 years ago is that today we look at the person; this includes helping with medication, but also helping with mental health provisions, ensuring they have food and transportation, counseling on disclosing status and so much more.
Human service workers today must also work to provide more in-depth community outreach. this means identifying and supporting communities and populations at high risk. By the year 2000, 61 % of all reported cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. were minorities (CDC 2001); and the highest affected racial demographic today is African Americans (HIV.gov 2017). Other populations at high risk include those in correctional facilities and drug users. The AIDS rate in prison is 2.5 times that of the general population of the country (Fish, Walker, Dwyer 2014).
Provisions have been put in place by throthe ugh legislature in many statesaidaide drug users in having clean needles accessible- a standard part of transmission precautions.
Over the 330-plusyears since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many aspects of testing, treatment, and care have changed; and will continue to do so. Human services professionals must ensure that they keep up with these changes. This is because these changes will dramatically affect what and how services are provided. The Office of Population Affairs states that every 9.5 minutes someone is infected with HIV in the U.S. and that 1 in 5 infected people are unaware they are infected (2017). Human services professionals must work towards making education and testing more accessible for all.
As a homosexual and bisexual men have historically, and continue to be, the o highest affected demographic community outreach in these populations is critical. Although acceptance of alternative lifestyles is much more commonplace today that has not always been the case, even in very recent years. Because of the stigma attached to homosexuality and bisexuality, many men at risk may not be getting tested which may be contributing to the rise in heterosexual female contraction rates (Office of Pop. Affairs 2017). Ensuring that education materials inform that HIV/AIDS affects people of all ages, races, orientations, and gender is one-way human services workers can combat this.
Because of the increased rate of AIDS in the prison population testing should become a standard protocol, procedures should be put in place to assist inmates during incarceration as well as upon release, and training regarding prevention should be increased for correctional workers. Many correctional facilities provide testing for inmates, but the occurrence of testing varies from place to place; some require testing upon entrance and release, but around 50% of all U.S. correctional facilities have no testing protocol aside from inmrequestsuest (Fish, Walker, Dwyer 2014). By providing inmates with counseling in addition to medical intervention, we can establish positive patterns of behavior that will benefit the inmate once released. More comprehensive training for corrections workers will better equip them to engage with the inmate population dealing with AIDS.
ConclusionWhen the HIV/AIDS epidemic fell on the United States, people were afraid and worried. Human services professionals have strived since then to provide support to victims of this disease and education to the public. More than 30 years have passed since then, and as things have changed with the disease so has the role of the human services workers dealing with this crisis. New advancements occur frequently and will continue to change how we treat HIV/AIDS on many different planes. As the changes occur, human services professionals must also adapt, change, and improve how they provide services to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.