World AIDS Day: How ‘The Project of the QC’ is tackling barriers, prevention and treatment

Ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday, December 1, The Project of the Quad Cities is holding several events to honor those living with HIV and raise awareness about the virus.

During Good Morning Quad Cities, Jesyka Dereta sat down the new executive director of The Project, Andrea Meirick, to talk about barriers people with HIV still face, resources, treatment, prevention and events for World AIDS Day.

The Project of the Quad Cities offers resources for people with HIV but also expands to other services.

“We offer assistance for people who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault. We also offer free mental health counseling and offer other STD testing for free,” added Meirick.

Meirick has a background in a case management and social work, specifically working with people who have HIV. She recently worked in health systems doing operations before coming to The Project in September.

“I wanted to continue the mission and purpose of raising awareness for HIV,” said Meirick.

Meirick says people living with HIV still face barriers and stigmas when it comes to care and who is at risk.

“People still assume it’s a gay disease like they did in the 80s and 90s but anyone who has unprotected sex or uses injectable drugs is at risk,” said Meirick. “One of the biggest issues is you have to ask for and HIV test or it has to be suggested by a provider. I think the best thing we can do is have opt-out testing and normalize testing when someone enters into healthcare,” said Meirick.

One of the biggest milestones in making progress with HIV treatment and prevention is the medication called PrEP. PrEP is a pill available through a healthcare provider and taken once a day to protect someone from contracting HIV.

“The easiest way to understand PrEP is like how birth control works – you take a pill to avoid getting pregnant. When PrEP is taken adherently, its 97% effective that HIV won’t be transmitted to someone at exposure but you should always be using condoms with PrEP,” added Meirick. “Treatment and prevention is best way to get the virus to suppression and to zero with new infections.”

The Project has planned three events on Friday, December 1 to honor World AIDS Day:

  • Community Health Care, 2750 11th St., Rock Island, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. to provide HIV/STI testing.
  • St. Ambrose University is partnering with Scott County Health Department at the University’s Wellness and Recreation Center, 518 W. Locust St., Davenport for HIV/STI testing from noon until 4 p.m.
  • The “Queen of Hearts Masquerade Ball” will begin at 8 p.m. at Mary’s on 2nd, 832 W 2nd St., Davenport. The event will include food, games, prizes and optional HIV testing.

In March, The Project is holding its 25th annual Red Ribbon Dinner to raise money. The organization will also honor Dr. Lewis Katz, a leader and activist in the Quad Cities who fought for people with the disease.

“We have clients who have had HIV for over 30 years and attribute their life to Dr. Katz. It will be wonderful to honor him,” said Thea Hansen-Bettis, director of operations at The Project.

HIV and STD testing is available at The Project Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 but the organization will accept after hour appointments. All services are completely free.

For more information on The Project of the Quad Cities, click here.