Four years ago, Uriel Loman-Gonzalez, 26, of Freeport, rushed to the nearest Northwell Health hospital because of agonizing abdominal distress. After an examination and blood work, he received a call from a doctor who wanted to speak with him in private. He was told that he had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and that if he didn’t come in when he did, his stomach could rupture, killing him.
Loman-Gonzalez received treatment and today is helping to launch an Apple/Android application that will assist HIV-positive individuals with care and treatment. Loman-Gonzalez works for Pride for Youth, an LGBT community center in Bellmore that partnered with the New York AIDS Institute and Northwell Health to launch the app. Called “Get,” it will connect people living with HIV to care providers, treatment centers and resource groups. On Jan. 27, Pride for Youth hosted a launch party for the app to mark the start of its trial period.
Loman-Gonzalez said that after he was diagnosed, “the next step involved a lot of physical and emotional healing.” He was put on medication to repair his digestive and immune systems, and every three months, he would visit HIV care providers who would assess how he was healing. If an HIV-positive individual receives care, the disease should have little to no impact on day-to-day health. Eventually, HIV will become undetectable, meaning the viral load will be reduced to a point that it cannot be transmitted through blood or semen.
The app helps recently diagnosed individuals access care. “Living with HIV is not a death sentence,” said Pride for Youth Director Pete Carney. “If you’re engaged in care and treatment, there’s no reason it should have a negative impact on your life.”
The app is part of the “Y Get It Project” and includes a graphic series called “Tested.” The cartoon depicts a young African-American male living with HIV and his interactions with a diverse group of friends. Program coordinator Mark Thompson explained that the cartoon is meant to de-stigmatize what it means to be HIV positive and engage those who have the virus and those who do not.
Carney said that Pride for Youth has similar goals as an organization. Individuals living with HIV “don’t need a separate space,” he added. “They need an accepting space with everyone.”
Every Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m., Pride for Youth holds a program called Mpower+, an LGBT-inclusive group aimed at supporting HIV-positive individuals. The organization provides free and confidential HIV tests. It also works with Northwell Health to provide Truvada, an anti-retroviral medication that can prevent or, in some cases, treat the HIV virus.
The Y Get It Project is part of New York state’s five-year plan to combat the AIDS epidemic. Its mission is to bring the number of HIV infections down from the estimated 3,000 documented in 2014 to 750 by 2020 by increasing awareness and access to treatment. Since it was begun, there have been no infants born with the virus in the past three years, according to the State Department of Health.
Carney explained that legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has made this possible. “We have every tool available that we should have a new generation going forward with no new infections,” he explained.
When asked what he thought would happen to the five-year plan under President Donald Trump’s administration, Carney said, “There’re going to be a lot of challenges, but we’re trying to be a voice within the larger system.”
“Get,” the app, will be available to the general public the weekend of Feb. 24. Within its first year, users must receive care at a Northwell Health unit, the only care provider now connected. The cartoon “Tested” is currently available on Instagram when searching the handle “Ygetit.” It will be available on multiple social media platforms once the app is launched.