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App helps HIV patients control treatment
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jason Carson Wilson

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Need more control? There's an app for that.

Photographer and HIV activist Duane Cramer joined forces with pharmaceutical giant Merck and Project Runway alum Mondo Guerra. Cramer helped them launch "My Health Matters" and "My Positive Agenda" apps Feb. 7.

It's part of the 2013 I Design National HIV Awareness campaign. While "My Health Matters" is a mobile app, "My Positive Agenda" is a desktop app. The mobile app is compatible with Apple and Android smartphones. Both apps can be downloaded at .

"This is about your own personal design," the HIV positive Cramer said. "HIV is the lens, through which I view life. HIV plans [and] treatments are all different."

Cramer describes the apps as "interactive tools, which fosters creativity and thoroughness of care." The apps aim to give HIV patients more control over their treatment plans. Revamped U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HIV treatment guidelines stress individualized treatment is the "cornerstone of any treatment plan."

The apps feature a symptom tracker, medication tracker and feelings tracker. Cramer believes this new technology helps people not only learn to manage their disease, but keep they and their doctors more informed.

In addition to keeping track of medications, the app allows patients to monitor their CD4 cell count and side effects as well as other concerns like cholesterol. Other specific information, which patients can share with their doctors, can also be added. A conversation checklist is also included, in order to jog the memory.

"It will help you talk to your doctor," Cramer said.

He stressed patients shouldn't worry about the information stored in the app. Cramer said everything remains completely safe and confidential.

"No one's gathering personal data," he said.

Cramer said he hoped partnering with Merck and Guerra for this I Design project achieved one goal now and another someday soon.

"[I hope the apps] inspire and empower people to be very upfront, open and honest with their doctor," Cramer said. "My goal is to bring an end to HIV."

With that said, Cramer stressed those living with HIV can still have "really meaningful and productive lives." After all, Cramer has had meaningful and productive moments, since his diagnosis nearly 20 years ago.

He's photographed everyone from former Supreme Mary Wilson to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Others include RuPaul, German male model Henning and Israel actor-model Itay Atlas. Cramer hopes the apps allow HIV patients maintain their strength and fortitude.

"I think many people feel like victims," he said. "I think we should really feel victorious."

Cramer could've easily labeled himself a victim. He lost his father, Joe J. Cramer, Jr., a Howard University professor, to AIDS in 1986. The elder Cramer was associate dean of Howard University Business School.

"There was a lot of shame [then]," he said, recalling that the family told people that Joe died of cancer. However, he and his sisters ultimately decided to "come out" about their father's death.

Cramer said he learned that talking about it helped other people. After all, he'd become one of millions who a lost a parent to AIDS. Ironically, he'd become like his father—a teacher.

"I think this is kind of my legacy," Cramer said. "I'm going to continue to be involved with projects. I'm really just continuing a generational legacy of educating others."

Cramer stressed that HIV is worth discussing and its "stigma is worth attacking." Using his artistic talent to inspire discussion and attack that stigma means the world to him.

"A picture is worth a million words," Cramer said. "To be able to work on campaigns that include my photos and capture people's interest…these authentic images make a really big impact."

While he's grateful to snap photos of prominent people, Cramer sees the value in the less famous.

"Those [photos], to me, aren't as impactful as everyday people," Cramer said. "Through my artwork and photography, I'm able to have an impact."

Teaming with Guerra and Merck has allowed Cramer to have an impact on gay Black and Latino young people. He said, as of 2010, 15 percent of U.S. teens accounted for 70 percent of new HIV diagnoses.

Black men account for one in four new HIV diagnoses. Cramer noted the federal government now focusing on ending HIV in the Black community. So, he's hopeful.

"I believe the end is in sight," Cramer said. "We've got to talk about this. We can come up with solutions that work for us."

His work will include continuing his partnership with Merck and Guerra for the I Design National HIV Awareness Campaign as well as participating in some photography exhibitions.

I Design is a Guerra and Merck-led national HIV education campaign. It aims to empower people living with HIV, allowing them to have open and honest discussions with their doctors about treatment.

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