AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Human immunodeficiency virus ranks high in both Georgia and Richmond County. Many health experts say that’s because people are either not aware of their HIV status or they do not disclose it, which is against the law.
One man reached out to NewsChannel 6 and said the lack of disclosure turned into his nightmare.
What would you do if you met someone and found out, months into the relationship, that they were HIV positive?
William Tyrone Harris said that is his story.
He wants to share how a small packet, plus a card can dramatically change someone’s life.
“I’m thinking like, damn, like how did I slip up?”
When William Tyrone Harris heard those three letters, HIV, he was not expecting it with the woman he was having sex with, unprotected.
“I just saw my whole life flash in front of me,” he said, noting they had sexual relations at least three times without protection.
Harris told NewsChannel 6 he met his ex-girlfriend, who declined to be part of this story, last June through one of her relatives. Ironically, he said he shared his HIV status during their getting to know you talk because they met right after he took his test.
He recalled, “You waiting for them to also be like, well I’m HIV negative too. She skirted around the issue and was like ‘would you like something else to drink?'”
Harris told us he found out his girlfriend had been HIV positive for the past nine years as he sat with her in a doctor’s appointment. That girl denies it. But he filed a report with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office anyway.
Local health educators shared that not disclosing is a felony.
We spoke with HIV Prevention Supervisor Yhanea Gregory. She said, “In Georgia, it’s this thing called reckless conduct by person living with HIV. So, meaning sharing needles, engaging in any type of sexual activity.”
It’s the same case in South Carolina. But there are ways you can talk about HIV testing with your partner BEFORE having unprotected sex.
Gregory added, “You can go to the health department and make it fun just like you go to the movies and make it fun.”
Taking an HIV test is free and it takes about two minutes. The test is a finger prick. And Gregory said there is a take home ‘mouth swab’ test.
While being HIV negative can be a relief, being HIV positive is not a death sentence.
“The CDC advises that if you use treatment as prevention, you have a very low risk of passing HIV to your partner,” Gregory told us. “Along with your partner living with HIV taking their medication every day like they’re supposed to, there is a pill called PrEP. PrEP is a pill that you take everyday to prevent yourself from contracting HIV.”
Harris took another test two weeks after he got that devastating news and is HIV negative.
“I advise before you even enter a new relationship, not only a HIV test, go get other STD checks,” he shared. “Make sure you stay up on your health. Open communication with your partner needs to be established.”
We want to stress how important it is to know your status. You can go to almost any health department within East Central Health District’s 13 county region and get tested for free. Columbia, McDuffie and Jefferson Counties cost a fee for testing. Afterwards, you come away with a test results card.
Women have a chance this weekend to get educated on how to reduce the risk for HIV and STDs.
Ladies Who PrEP Augusta takes place Saturday. The event focuses on PrEP, which is a daily pill to prevent HIV. Sex and healthy relationships will also be discussed during the event.
“Empowering them to take their sexual health into their own hands,” Gregory added. “We’re empowering them to initiate conversations around sexual health and also empowering them to initiate conversations around PrEP.”
The event takes place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the James Brown Arena in downtown Augusta. It’s free and lunch will be provided.
There is also another opportunity to become more educated about HIV & AIDS in the CSRA and that is by participating in the annual walk. Positively Augusta will hold the walk on December 14. You can sign up here.