For Immediate Release
December 2, 2020
(JEFFERSON CITY, MO…) On World AIDS Day, 2020, a bipartisan group of Missouri legislators held a 1 p.m. virtual press conference via Zoom and Facebook to announce the filing of legislation aimed at ending transmission of HIV in our state. They were joined by People Living with HIV and other members of the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition.
Senator-Elect Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston, Senate District 27) has been a champion on this issue since 2018 and is again sponsoring her “Harm Reduction Package.” The three bill set includes measures to modernize Missouri’s outdated and medically inaccurate HIV-specific criminal statutes, a needle and syringe exchange program, and the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
“We get to file our bills on this day that is so significant,” Rehder said. “We have had so many advancements in HIV treatment since the 1980’s when our statutes were put into place. Medical professionals, researchers, scientists know so much more about it now than they did then.”
Rehder continued, “Living with HIV is not a death sentence, but many in the general public do not know that. Removing the stigma is very important; medications are available, and we do have the ability to [end HIV transmission].”
Representative Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters, House District 105), is carrying the HIV policy modernization bill on the House side, and is also sponsoring legislation to expand access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Senator-Elect Greg Razer (D-Kansas City, Senate District 7) will file the PEP/PrEP bills in the Missouri Senate.
Christofanelli said, “If taken within 72 hours of exposure to the virus, PEP can make it almost impossible for the person taking the medicine to develop HIV. However, having to get a doctor’s appointment, can mean that you miss that critical three-day window.”
The Christofanelli bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe PEP and PrEP, increasing access and reducing transmission of the virus. Christofanelli added, “While science has not yet found a way to cure HIV, we certainly have the tools at our disposal to end HIV [transmission] if we take the correct actions.”
Senator-Elect Razer said, “World AIDS Day is a conflicting day for many. For those of us who have lost friends and loved ones to AIDS, it’s a day to commemorate, but it’s also a day to celebrate. We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel on this epidemic that started in the 1980’s.”
Razer acknowledged the importance of educating the public and members of the Missouri General Assembly to ensure passage of the legislation. “Many in the public and in the Legislature have not been following the medical progress [regarding] HIV for some time now. Today HIV is a very manageable, chronic virus to deal with. [A person living with HIV] who takes medicine today is very likely to achieve [an undetectable] viral load. This means they cannot transmit the virus.”
Adding their support for the legislators’ efforts to improve HIV policy in Missouri were:
- Molly Pearson, MO HIV Justice Coalition Organizer, who lost both of her biological parents to AIDS
- LaTrischa Miles, co-founder of the MO HIV Justice Coalition, and a woman living with HIV since 1995
- Lynne Meyerkord, Executive Director of AIDS Project of the Ozarks, and
- Darius Rucker, Director of Health Services for Williams & Associates and a man living with HIV for the past ten years
Miles noted the surprise that many long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS feel on World AIDS Day, “All I could think about on the day that I was diagnosed was that I had three small children, ages 11, 8 and 4. Soon after my diagnosis, I picked out my casket and made my burial arrangements. But 25 years later, I am still here, and I’ve set myself on a course to not count my years but to make my years count.”
Note: To find materials in Tuesday’s press packet, go to this LINK. Empower Missouri and the MO HIV Justice Coalition will be glad to assist you in scheduling interviews with any of the speakers from today’s press conference. Find a recording of the press conference at: https://youtu.be/Ud5Y_OWraZw