Ryan White on His 50th Birthday
Ryan White is not alive to celebrate his 50th birthday, which is December 6. But thousands of people living with HIV crossed the half-century mark recently. They might not realize it, but most of them have been helped in some way by Ryan. It could be from the anti-stigma movement sparked by his short life and untimely passing in 1990. Or maybe it is just the luxury of complaining about middle age. Thanks to the HIV Continuum of Care, people with HIV can go from diagnosis to achieving and maintaining viral suppression quickly, regardless of their insurance or income.
Serving more than half a million people today, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program honors this teen’s courage and toughness in the face of life-shattering discrimination after his HIV diagnosis. Along with mom Jeanne White-Ginder and HIV activists from across the country, Ryan White achieved the unthinkable. He put a human face on HIV, and it changed the world, starting with the U.S.
Ryan has missed a lot of milestones, in addition to his upcoming birthday. He missed his high school graduation, and he missed seeing the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program named after him signed into law by Congress. He would marvel that people now can live long and fulfilling lives because of effective treatment and that more than half of people with HIV in the U.S. today are over fifty.
“I’m acutely aware of how much better my life is today because of Ryan White,” says Sven, a DAP Health patient who just turned fifty and has lived with HIV since 2001. Getting care and services early in his diagnosis laid a foundation for his own thriving with HIV, he says.
Accessing Health Through Ryan White Today
People with HIV have more opportunities than ever to stay in control of their health, thanks to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and DAP Health. The uninsured are never turned away, and low-income or under-insured patients who qualify can access the program for high-quality, comprehensive care.
It is easy for anyone to find out if they qualify for Ryan White programs for ongoing care and a variety of other needs with a short online form or by calling (760) 323-2118. To learn more, visit daphealth.org.
DAP Health has been providing care and services to people living with HIV since 1984, the same year Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS. At a time before HIV was even acknowledged as an epidemic, DAP Health medical staff, psychologists and social workers created their own road map for helping patients live with HIV, and they kept improving it.
Living with HIV requires ongoing, complex, and intensive management, but many patients do not have the financial resources required for adequate care. DAP Health offers patients and clients access with the following, thanks to Ryan White Program grants:
- Early Intervention Services,
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP),
- HIV and primary medical care,
- Help for youth transitioning into adult HIV care,
- Rapid Start Antiretroviral Therapy (ART),
- Outpatient medical care,
- Food vouchers,
- Career development assistance,
- Medical transportation,
- Psychosocial support groups,
- and temporary housing assistance.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is the third-largest source of federal funding for HIV-related care, after Medicare and Medicaid. About half of DAP Health clients living with HIV use the program as they stay engaged in medical care and services for viral suppression and a much better quality of life.
“Everyone wants to protect the Ryan White Program because it works so well at helping people live with HIV,” says Carl Baker, DAP Health director of Legal and Legislative Affairs. “Its efficiency has always made it a financial and administrative success.”
More than half of people with HIV in the U.S. received services through Ryan White programs in 2019, and more of them (88.1%) reached viral suppression compared to the national average (64.7%). (HRSA)
High rates of viral suppression mean that more people with HIV are taking their medication as prescribed and reaching and maintaining an undetectable viral load. This means they have no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.
Living With HIV Isn’t Always Easy
Sven says he was trying to make sense of being a young gay man in Hollywood when he found out about his HIV. In 2001, his hard-partying ways had made adulting a real challenge and he needed special support.
“I had this instinct to survive,” he says, “and I took advantage of the help that was offered to me through Ryan White funded programs.”
These included housing, food, HIV specialty care, medical transportation, and help dealing with addiction. Today, Sven is married to the love of his life George and living a sober and full life. Those difficult days in Hollywood have been in his rearview mirror for years now, and he is grateful for that.
“How do you look at HIV as a disease when it’s given you so much life?” says Sven. “I’ve had access to a lot of help, all because of HIV advocates who decided to honor Ryan White’s legacy.”
Why Is the Ryan White Program Still Important?
Not all states have expanded access for people living with HIV. Especially in states without Medicaid expansion, people living with HIV/AIDS frequently are poor with unstable living conditions, and they are likely to be uninsured or underinsured. It is also common for them to suffer from numerous comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hepatitis C. Treatment for these is also covered. Designed to fill gaps in the existing HIV care system, the Ryan White Program provides uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS with access to HIV-related care and delivers high-quality, comprehensive care.
Learn More About the Ryan White Program
For more about the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and his personal story, visit https://hab.hrsa.gov/about-ryan-white-hivaids-program/about-ryan-white-hivaids-program