A syndemic approach strengthens our fight to end the HIV epidemic

This World Hepatitis Day is an important opportunity for the HIV community to understand how a syndemic approach to public health is critical to our work to end HIV in the United States.

Working in tandem across sectors allows us to create a holistic approach that sees patients as whole people, in the fullness of their needs and experiences. It creates paths of support for each of us to draw strength and lessons from other sectors — and propels our advocacy forward to advance equitable funding, systems and practices.

Because the data makes it clear: public health crises are often intertwined. Injection drug use fuels new cases of HIV and hepatitis. Interventions like syringe service programs are a proven tool in the fight against these epidemics, in addition to the opioid crisis.

But what is a syndemic approach?

In practice, it means looking at public health through the lens of people rather than specific health issues. Utilizing a syndemic approach is about creating more comprehensive systems of care for patients rather than zeroing in on one facet. It involves investing in infrastructure that is created to take care of all people’s needs to the degree they intersect.

We take a syndemic approach to our HIV advocacy because it also helps to educate decision-makers about the interconnectedness of our lives. Unless people are deeply involved in this advocacy already, these connections aren’t necessarily clear.

But we as advocates know harm reduction is an HIV issue and that hepatitis and other viral STI treatment access is as important to reducing new HIV diagnoses ending the HIV epidemic as HIV-specific care. We know that support for ending the HIV epidemic can also lend itself to support for ending the opioid epidemic too. Just as providers must be treating patients as a whole person, offering care for all of their needs and not just some, so too must Congress continue to invest in increasing comprehensive access to care.

We have only to look at the fights we’re currently facing in Congress with some of the worst proposed cuts to HIV funding in decades to know that this work is urgent and lives depend on it.

At AIDS United, we’re fighting every day to end the HIV epidemic in the United States — and that can only be done when we look at people living with HIV as whole people and not solely one virus.

What we advocate for us as people living with HIV exists in a broader constellation of issues, including viral hepatitis, STIs, substance use disorder, mental health disparities and so much more. We must always be cognizant of those connections because we are the experts in our own bodies, in our own lives, and our own experiences.

This World Hepatitis Day is an important reminder that we are in this fight together.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has many free resources to promote HIV testing, prevention, and treatment. We can stop the HIV epidemic. Together.