During assembly on Friday, December 1 ~ World Aids Day ~ David Payne spoke to students about HIV, his own story of living with the virus and the work of Doorways, a local interfaith non-profit which provides housing and other support services for people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Payne said in the early 80s no one knew what HIV was. Because gay males were one of the first populations in which the disease manifested, it was called the "gay cancer," and either the virus or toxic medications used to treat it killed many who were afflicted. The only way to get HIV, then and now, is through risky behaviors in which bodily fluids are transferred, that is, having unsafe sex or sharing drug needles. Payne added that the virus cannot be transferred by hugs and handshakes, and that current medications can be so effective that the virus can become virtually undetectable, and thus non-transferable.
About six years ago, Payne was diagnosed as HIV+. Because of huge advances in medication, however, he is leading a healthy and productive life. He is currently the activities director for Doorways which takes a multi-prong approach to assisting people with HIV/AIDS: Cooper House (a 36-bed building which serves those who are unable to live independently because of HIV/AIDS), Own Home (a program which helps find affordable housing and assists with rent, utilities, etc.), Residential (103 apartment units which provide subsidized long-term housing), Jumpstart (a program focused on homeless families and supports them with rent, utilities and other services) and Outstate (a program which works with organizations in greater Missouri and Illinois to develop housing strategies). Most of Doorways' funding comes from government grants, but the organization also relies on individual donations and volunteerism.
During a brief Q&A, Payne explained that barriers to health care (e.g., homelessness) are why there are still so many people who are very sick with HIV/AIDS. Those who do have access to health care can easily manage the disease, he said, through a mix of six classes of medication ~ the strategy being to stop the virus on multiple fronts.
From the Doorways web site: Today, DOORWAYS’ goals are to remain true to this original mission: To increase access to safe, affordable housing for people with HIV/AIDS and, in doing so, improve access to healthcare and social services, increase compliance with individual treatment plans, reduce further transmission and enhance the quality of life for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.