Facing Discrimination with HIV
The majority of those who learn of a student’s HIV status are going to treat them exactly the same as they would otherwise. Unfortunately, there may be some who don’t. The truth is that a student with HIV may find themselves encountering discrimination while in college. This can include being excluded from a social event or kept out of a particular class or activity. Depending on the discrimination, legal action may be possible and warranted.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes discrimination illegal on the basis of a disability by any public entity. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability by any program that receives federal funding. Federal law recognizes AIDS and HIV as a disability, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) provides privacy protection concerning medical conditions.
Given these laws, students with HIV may not be discriminated against by the school. This bar on discrimination also applies when students choose to enter a particular major or area of study, even one that could arguably put the health of others or themselves at risk, such as nursing. Many states have laws that require health care workers to either not perform certain procedures (invasive in nature) or to advise their patient of their status before the procedure. A student should not have to disclose HIV status for acceptance into a school or programs, however.
To learn more about protections against discrimination, students are encouraged to visit the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which is tasked with protecting students against discrimination on the basis of their disability. The Office of Civil Rights also has a great FAQ section to further explain a student’s right against disability discrimination. To gain a better understanding of the federal laws that protect a student’s civil rights, please read the Civil Rights section of HIV.gov.
Accessing Medical Care with HIV
HIV is no longer the life-threatening disease it used to be. A number of antiretroviral treatments are available that can drastically extend the lifespan of an individual with HIV. antiretroviral treatments can turn an HIV infection into a chronic disease and an individual can live a normal life span. It’s very important to regularly see a physician so they can monitor your HIV and help maintain health and wellness.
Another consideration is access to necessary medications. Antiretroviral medications may not be readily available at every pharmacy or medical dispensary. The pharmacy closest to the student’s school may be able to have the necessary medications delivered, but students must confirm that the pharmacy has this ability and can do so consistently. Antiretroviral medications require strict adherence, so there must be no interruption in treatment.
Prospective college students who want to find HIV care providers in a particular area can use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Locate a Provider tool.
The Importance of Insurance
Most colleges require students to have health insurance, and many offer policies to their students. However, the health insurance industry is in flux right now, with many individuals uncertain about the future of their coverage. Even if they continue to receive the same coverage, each year could bring cost increases in the premiums paid. For now, the Affordable Care Act ensures that insured students living with HIV and other chronic conditions have access to care, even if it’s a pre-existing condition. This includes care crucial for people with HIV including prescription drug services, hospital inpatient care, lab tests, and other services for any patient living with a chronic disease. This mandate includes students insured through a school-offered program.
For those living with HIV, maintaining health insurance without a lapse in coverage is extremely important because:
Someone with HIV will need consistent medical care for the rest of their lives. Regular visits to the primary care physician and the doctor specializing in HIV and AIDS will need to continue while in college.
The high cost of antiretroviral medications would cost a student between $500 and $2,000 for just 30 tablets if they didn’t have insurance. Many antiretroviral medications need to be taken every day and some patients have to take multiple types of drugs each day.
Those who are uninsured or underinsured can turn to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, which provides medical care and support services to those living with HIV. About 52 percent of all people living with HIV in the United States take advantage of the variety of services offered by the organization. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program is designed to help those who have trouble paying for their required antiretroviral medications. Additionally, students who are self-supporting may qualify for other programs such as Medicaid.
HIV & Maintaining Health at College
The common advice given to college students to stay healthy, such as eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, finding ways to reduce stress and getting plenty of sleep, is important for everyone, but it’s just as important for those living with HIV.
Another way to maintain health is to stay properly vaccinated. Among some of the most important vaccines to get are those against HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and meningitis. Most people who are on treatment for HIV have a healthy immune system; however, it’s always a good idea to check with the doctor before getting a live-virus vaccine.
HIV Support & Awareness
With so much misinformation present on college campuses concerning HIV, education is extremely important. One recent study that asked college participants about their general knowledge of HIV, such as how it can be transmitted between people, indicated that many people are still uninformed: Over 8 percent said HIV could not be transmitted through semen, 4 percent believed HIV could not have the same effect on people from all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds and 44 percent believed no treatments were available for HIV.
While most students know that using condoms during sex can reduce the risk of getting HIV, a large percentage do not use barrier protections. In one survey of just over 704 college participants, 696 agreed that using condoms during sex provided benefits. However, only 358 stated they used condoms consistently during sexual encounters. Nineteen percent believe that using a condom during sex was not worth the trouble.
Awareness and education campaigns make a positive difference for two reasons. First, they explain how HIV can be transmitted and offer steps college students can take to reduce the risk of infection, such as practicing safer sex. Second, with a better understanding of HIV, students are less likely to stigmatize HIV positive classmates and more likely to treat them with respect.
Scholarships & Grants for Students Living with HIV
Scholarships and grants are available specifically for those who have HIV or AIDS, as well as those who are dedicated to working to help them. Here is a sampling of what’s out there.
Helen Veress-Mitchell Scholarship Fund
Sponsored by the Capital City AIDS Fund, this scholarship provides at least $1,500 to individuals living with HIV who seek either a two or four-year college degree and who have a connection to Northern California.
HIV League Scholarship
Available to college students who are HIV positive and have attended, or will attend, at least two consecutive years of postsecondary education. The scholarship amount varies, but in 2016, two winning recipients received $7,000.
Joshua Gomes Memorial Scholarship Fund
Award of $1,000 goes to an individual who has HIV and will attend a two- or four-year university for undergraduate or graduate study. Awards are made based on both financial need and personal merit.
Positive Futures Scholarship
Available to students enrolled full-time at the University of Colorado, this scholarship provides $1,500 per academic year to students whose lives have been affected by HIV.
Scholarships for those who want to help in the HIV community:
AIDS Project Snohomish County
Administered by the Pride Foundation for residents of Snohomish County in Washington State who have either been impacted by HIV or intend to include HIV awareness in their course of study or work.
Wozumi Family Scholarship
One of many scholarships also administered by the Pride Foundation, this scholarship is awarded to individuals who are either HIV positive or dedicated to helping those infected receive treatment and find a cure.