On May 20, 1983 scientists publicly announced the discovery of the retrovirus behind the AIDS epidemic, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Robert Ballance is a Palm Springs resident and a co-founder of the Palm Springs chapter of Lets Kick AIDS Survivor Syndrome. The non-profit’s mission is to cultivate friendship and community among people who are HIV positive.
Ballance lived in San Francisco at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, he said, “Everybody was dying around me, it was horrendous, you would go to the grocery store and your favorite checker was gone.”
Ballance said it was dark time and many of his friends succumbed to AIDS or other disease connected to the virus.
He tested HIV positive in 1989 and he said he was able to stay afloat through holistic care up until 1997 when the highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART became the standard treatment for HIV.
Ballance said, “AIDS diagnosis is anything below 200, I had seven T-cells left, so I went on the drug regimen.”
He arrived at Palm Springs in early 2000, and he said he was extremely sick. He turned to the Desert AIDS Project to help bring back his health.
He said, “They have a down-path they will get you into the program so they will steer you in the right place.”
The local healthcare provider has taken the lead to educate the Coachella Valley about the importance of regular STD and HIV screenings.
Earlier this year the Desert AIDS Project also led a desert-wide campaign to educate the community about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) a daily pill discovered in 2011 that reduces the transmission of HIV.
In 2018 Ballance is a long-term survivor and he is busier than ever. He said the non-profit takes a lot of his time but he does not mind, he said he gets fulfillment from helping people.
He hopes his work helps advance the lives of people with HIV, which he said can be isolating at times. He also invites the entire community regardless of health status to learn about the disease, he said education is the only way to end the stigma.
But beyond that, he also hopes one day there will be a cure for HIV, he said, “I know that we have a lot of wonderful sciences in this world and I know it is just a matter of time before they find a cure.”