Commentary

By Karl Schmid

Earlier this 12 months, GLAAD—in partnership with the Gilead COMPASS Initiative—carried out a survey titled, “The 2021 State of HIV Stigma Examine.” Its activity was to measure American attitudes in the direction of HIV and other people like myself residing with HIV. The outcomes of the research have been disheartening, to say the very least: People, after 40 years, nonetheless appear to know little or no in regards to the human immunodeficiency virus.

Why is that?

Is it as a result of the bulk – 51%, in response to this research – simply don’t assume 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 expertise 40 years in the past. 4 a long time have handed, and but most individuals in america would really feel discomfort interacting with a medical skilled who has HIV.

We’ve come a good distance in preventing the illness, however with regards to preventing the stigma, there’s nonetheless a lot extra to be performed and it’s time that this turns into a precedence, as a result of much more harmful and lethal than the virus itself is the stigma that we simply can’t appear to smash.

This is among the main causes I based +Life: a number one platform devoted to ending HIV/AIDs stigma.

How is it that as a society now we have been capable of get past referring to most cancers because the “c” phrase? How is it that the concept of a married couple getting a divorce is not taboo? Or {that a} youngster born out of wedlock not implies that the mom is shamed and ostracized? However somebody with HIV, which might be managed and handled with correct medicine to the purpose that the virus is undetectable and never sexually transmissible, is one way or the other 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I used to be newly 27 years outdated after I was identified, residing the life in London, and having fun with all of the issues that got here with being a single, younger, homosexual man residing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 thrilling cities on the planet. However the second I heard the phrases, “You’ve examined constructive 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” habits, I had not solely successfully ended my life, however would additionally deliver disgrace on the household and pals who thought higher of me.

You see, that’s what most individuals assume after they get the information. As a substitute of enthusiastic about their well being, and the realities of residing with HIV nowadays, 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 a substitute of understanding 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 enormously who had been treating me for plenty of years by that time, had failed to say this U=U precept. It wasn’t till Bruce Richman of Prevention Entry bought ahold of me by way of 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 needed solutions.  The reply I bought was as a result of it nonetheless was “questionable.”

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

In 1998, a San Francisco cohort research 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 Accomplice and Accomplice 2 research which confirmed that after 135,000 (yep, you learn that proper) instances {couples} had intercourse with out condoms when the viral load was undetectable there have been ZERO transmissions!

All of those nuggets of knowledge might 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 might have had hope. And hope is a really highly effective factor.

And but, my physician and tens of millions around the globe like him continued to maintain this info to themselves. Solely when the CDC and World Well being Group signed on did it begin to turn into “accepted.”

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

I’m no physician and I’m definitely 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.

Nevertheless it goes past U=U. In my view (one which I’ve a sense many share), america of America has main insecurity with regards 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 no less than hung out alone in a cubicle in order that the outcomes could possibly be used together with science! SHOCKING! Now we have 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, faux 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 now we have issues like legalized clear injecting rooms with help. “No no no! We are able to’t have that, it’ll solely encourage drug customers.” Garbage! Analysis from the European Monitoring Centre for Medicine and Drug Dependancy discovered that protected consumption websites cut back drug use in public house (and discarded needles) and improve participation in drug habit therapy applications. Additionally they assist restrict the unfold of HIV, Hepatitis C, and bacterial infections which can be related to intravenous drug use.

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

Now we have conversations. We don’t combat, we ask questions. We debate and we come to grasp that even when we disagree head to head, maybe we’ve planted a seed that may encourage others and ourselves to do some digging. Data is energy, in any case.

This nation stands at one in every of its most intricate crossroads proper now — the combat towards HIV & COVID-19. The misinformation that has brought about tens of millions of deaths resulting from AIDS-related diseases by no means wanted to occur, identical to the individuals who have misplaced their lives to COVID-19. Persons are dying for no purpose.

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 cleared the path within the combat towards the virus and extra importantly the stigma.

HIV just isn’t the demise sentence. Stigma is the demise 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 way of life 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.