Beating HIV Stigma: Undetectable Equals Untransmittable


By Karl Schmid

Earlier this yr, GLAAD—in partnership with the Gilead COMPASS Initiative—carried out a survey titled, “The 2021 State of HIV Stigma Research.” Its activity was to measure American attitudes in the direction of HIV and folks like myself residing with HIV. The outcomes of the examine have been disheartening, to say the very least: People, after 40 years, nonetheless appear to know little or no concerning the human immunodeficiency virus.

Why is that?

Is it as a result of the bulk – 51%, in response to this examine – simply don’t suppose that HIV impacts them? Or is it as a result of most people surveyed imagine that HIV is treatable now? Maybe it’s as a result of, amongst these questioned, they assumed that HIV is just for promiscuous homosexual white males and IV drug customers?

Regardless of the causes, HIV continues to unfold—and with it, the myths and misconceptions that have been born out of concern and lack of awareness 40 years in the past. 4 a long time have handed, and but most individuals in the USA would really feel discomfort interacting with a medical skilled who has HIV.

We’ve come a great distance in combating the illness, however relating to combating the stigma, there may be nonetheless a lot extra to be achieved and it’s time that this turns into a precedence, as a result of way more harmful and lethal than the virus itself is the stigma that we simply can’t appear to smash.

This is without doubt one of the main causes I based +Life: a number one platform devoted to ending HIV/AIDs stigma.

How is it that as a society we’ve been capable of get past referring to most cancers because the “c” phrase? How is it that the thought of a married couple getting a divorce is now not taboo? Or {that a} little one born out of wedlock now not signifies that the mom is shamed and ostracized? However somebody with HIV, which might be managed and handled with correct remedy to the purpose that the virus is undetectable and never sexually transmissible, is by some means nonetheless branded, “reckless,” “perverted, “harmful,” “unlovable,” and “broken items.”

These phrases come simply to me as a result of I’ve been on the receiving finish of them, however even worse, I’ve used them on myself. And I believed them.

I used to be newly 27 years outdated after I was identified, residing the life in London, and having fun with all of the issues that got here with being a single, younger, homosexual man residing in one of the vital thrilling cities on this planet. However the second I heard the phrases, “You’ve examined optimistic for HIV,” it felt like a pair of handcuffs had been slapped on my wrists. That was it! It was over. And due to my “reckless,” “perverted” and “harmful” conduct, I had not solely successfully ended my life, however would additionally deliver disgrace on the household and buddies who thought higher of me.

You see, that’s what most individuals suppose once they get the information. As a substitute of fascinated about their well being, and the realities of residing with HIV these days, all we take into consideration is how we’ve tousled. The disgrace, the guilt, and the self-loathing create the harmful spiral many people go down, as a result of as an alternative of figuring out the reality and the science, all we’ve heard are outdated, expired, and inaccurate statistics.

It wasn’t till 2018, 11 full years of residing with HIV did I even hear the time period “U=U,” or “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable.” Even my HIV physician right here in LA, a person I respect drastically who had been treating me for quite a few years by that time, had failed to say this U=U precept. It wasn’t till Bruce Richman of Prevention Entry obtained ahold of me through Twitter, inviting me to the World AIDS Convention in Amsterdam, the place I used to be launched to America’s true superhero, Dr. Anthony Fauci, did I study this game-changing little bit of science so simply expressed. I wished solutions.  The reply I obtained was as a result of it nonetheless was “questionable.”

By 2018, there was mounting proof to assist this easy message which might in the end show to be the keys to these handcuffs that have been slapped on me and tens of millions of others all over the world.

In 1998, a San Francisco cohort examine confirmed that transmission from mom to child was lowered to approaching zero. In 2000, there was the Ugandan cohort that confirmed ZERO transmissions when the individual’s viral load was lower than 1500 copies/ml. In 2008, The Swiss Assertion concluded that “transmission wouldn’t happen” with an undetectable viral load.

Maybe the 2 most notable research got here in 2014 and 2018 with the Companion and Companion 2 research which confirmed that after 135,000 (yep, you learn that proper) occasions {couples} had intercourse with out condoms when the viral load was undetectable there have been ZERO transmissions!

All of those nuggets of data may have given me (and tens of millions of others in the identical state of affairs) a really totally different outlook on myself and life. As a substitute of 11 years of believing the stigma and internalizing the stigma, I may have had hope. And hope is a really highly effective factor.

And but, my physician and tens of millions all over the world like him continued to maintain this info to themselves. Solely when the CDC and World Well being Group signed on did it begin to grow to be “accepted.”

The query is why? And now, a fair larger query is why does it proceed to be stored from folks? There are a lot of docs and people within the medical group on the market who’re nonetheless responsible of claiming issues like, “properly, sure, U=U, but it surely’s not my opinion.” No offense doc, these of us residing with HIV don’t need the opinion, we would like the science. We wish the info. And we wished them yesterday.

I’m no physician and I’m actually no scientist; nevertheless, I’m an individual residing with HIV who carries the very actual, still-fresh scars of the stigma that society continues to heave on folks like me. However I do know that messaging like U=U is the hope, is the sunshine, and is the message EVERYONE wants to listen to to lastly kick HIV stigma to the curb.

But it surely goes past U=U. In my view (one which I’ve a sense many share), the USA of America has main insecurity relating to intercourse. Which is unusual, as a result of who doesn’t like intercourse? Whether or not it’s with ourselves, with another person, or with a gaggle of individuals, we human beings, identical to each different residing factor, like intercourse. And past that, most of us are right here as a result of two folks had intercourse or a minimum of frolicked alone in a cubicle in order that the outcomes could possibly be used along side science! SHOCKING! We’ve got this unusual spooky relationship with it that something sexual or to do with intercourse is “reckless,” “perverted, “harmful.” – ugh, these phrases once more!

So for so long as we’re unable to debate intercourse casually and comfortably, I concern that the stigma that surrounds HIV will proceed to develop. After we sweep issues underneath the carpet, or we hold them to whispered conversations, or worse, fake they don’t exist, then we create that darkish underworld the place stigma thrives.

IV drug customers are equally stigmatized. Canine crap on the sidewalk is extra acceptable and approachable than the subject of drug habit on this nation. God forbid we’ve issues like legalized clear injecting rooms with help. “No no no! We will’t have that, it’ll solely encourage drug customers.” Garbage! Analysis from the European Monitoring Centre for Medication and Drug Dependancy discovered that secure consumption websites scale back drug use in public house (and discarded needles) and enhance participation in drug habit therapy packages. In addition they assist restrict the unfold of HIV, Hepatitis C, and bacterial infections which can be related to intravenous drug use.

So what will we do then? How will we recover from our uptightness about intercourse and medicines? How will we get the science and the info to folks in methods during which they perceive, comprehend and belief?

We’ve got conversations. We don’t combat, we ask questions. We debate and we come to know that even when we disagree head to head, maybe we’ve planted a seed that can encourage others and ourselves to do some digging. Information is energy, in spite of everything.

This nation stands at certainly one of its most complex crossroads proper now — the combat in opposition to HIV & COVID-19. The misinformation that has induced tens of millions of deaths as a consequence of AIDS-related sicknesses by no means wanted to occur, identical to the individuals who have misplaced their lives to COVID-19. Persons are dying for no cause.

It’s time to deliver HIV out of the shadows and the darkness of the previous 40 years and actually simply inform the reality. Throw away all of the stereotypes, all of the myths and present the world that as People we will paved the way within the combat in opposition to the virus and extra importantly the stigma.

HIV shouldn’t be the dying sentence. Stigma is the dying sentence — to which I proudly say, “F Stigma!”

Karl Schmid is an Australian-born tv host and producer.  In 2019, he launched Plus Life (@PlusLifeMedia), a digital life-style model aimed toward smashing the stigma that surrounds HIV. In 2020, Plus Life additionally launched as a half hour tv program on the ABC digital Localish Community and in November 2021 Schmid made his Broadway debut internet hosting a particular night on Broadway in associations with Playbill and Broadway Cares Fairness Fights AIDS.

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