WORLD AIDS DAY 2021
HIV AID 40 YEARS
1st December 2021 marks the 40th year since the first five cases of AIDS were reported in LA, USA in 1981. Throughout the last 4 decades, millions of people worldwide have died from this virus. I am not here to tell you the stats, because you can find the official information from World AIDS.
Most of you may know, or will know someone and most likely too afraid to acknowledge that you know someone who has died or will die of HIV related illnesses or AIDS. Having HIV is no longer a death sentence, people living with HIV have been able to live a long healthy life, sometimes more so than people who do not have HIV. In this column I will tell you snippets which are easy to digest, so you can go away and research a bit more at your own time.
At Stanley Burton, we care about what goes on in our community so when someone or a cluster of people are treated poorly by discrimination we like to bring awareness to the wider community.
It is in my nature to be vocal about issues, if you have not figured it out by now I am most fitting to be a social activist by putting my words into action and not protesting on the street. Coming from a British Hong Kong working class family of educators, lawyers, medical professions and actually a member of our family in Hong Kong is a renowned researcher in infectious disease / HIV in South African children.
‘Researcher for HIV in children??’.. You must be thinking.. Isn’t HIV / AIDS a gay disease? If anyone says these words out loud in 2021, they most likely get their eyes poked out. Rightfully so. But actually people do think this too.
NO! HIV is not a gay disease and I am certain that when a gay man passes away, people often have this undying need to ask.. "Did he die from taking drugs?" Because gay men cannot die from natural causes? Car crash maybe or drowning?.. “Did he die of ...., y’know?” No I do not know.. what are you trying to say? And what if died of AIDS, are you going to view him differently because your close friend of 30 years died of HIV related illness? And do you blame him for not disclosing his status, he probably knew you would judge him like the way you are tiptoeing about this.
This isn’t uncommon, mind you! People are afraid to talk about it or tell friends and families about their status so they choose to hide it. While this is a personal decision and of no one else's business, they also need love and support and often feel isolated. However there are support groups in the community for HIV in cities across Australia.
Bite sized information you can digest about people living with HIV:
- Discrimination against people living with HIV is fairly common within the LGBTQI+ community in Australia. While a lot has been discussed with HIV Stigma towards people living with HIV in general, the amount of discrimination toward HIV positive men within the gay community is very common:
- Rejection on gay dating apps as well as in general friendship
- Bullying online, such as social media in DM or spitefully outing someone else's status on social media or in the public domain
- Distancing or singling out someone who is HIV positive in a group
Personally I think it has a lot to do with fear.
Fear is a giant monster that lies beneath our inner being, people fear that they might contract the virus if they know their friend is HIV Positive. These people usually don't know how to handle a lot of shortcomings. To be honest, I think this applies to a lot of illnesses, not just HIV. I had an ex partner who was diagnosed with brain cancer with less than a year to live, at the time we have already broken up but we remained friends until his final days. Few months leading up to his death, I flew interstate to spend time with him, however his recent separated partner and several other friends neglected him - a form of rejection. People also lacks the ability to be compassionate, which is also a huge problem in the gay community. People don't really support or look out for each other which is also one of the reason why we initiated 'Underwear for Change' to start a conversation to seek out what's required to be fixed.
- Not every gay men with HIV contracted the virus from having unsafe sex. Therefore before you make a judgement on their responsibility, you need to educate yourself there are numerous other factors at play and not limited to: sharing needles, the sexual partner who withheld his status for example, contracted the virus in their professions. Also if someone disclose their status, you don't and shouldn't ask them how they contracted HIV.. They have it, they disclosed it because they trust you, that's the end of it. Sometimes people do not want to talk about it, perhaps it is a part of their lives they do not want to revisit, so you should leave it at that.
- HIV is not a gay disease, although the number of gay men with HIV is higher than heterosexual in the developed countries, because the first cases came from the gay community, so it has always been branded as 'the gay cancer'. Furthermore South Africa has the biggest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.7 million people living with HIV in 2018, affecting both adults and children. (AIDSinfo | UNAIDS)
- You fear what you don’t know. By not knowing, you will always discriminate against people living with HIV and by not getting all the facts, you can never educate others. The same thing happens at the start of COVID that contributes to the rise of racism towards against Asians. #AsianHate
- Living with HIV is no longer a death sentence. There is Antiretroviral treatment (also known as antiretroviral therapy or ART). 20 years ago, people used to take over 10 pills per day plus numerous vitamins as supplements, but it is no longer the case. With advanced treatment and research, swallowing a pill is more manageable, take one or two depending on combination, much like taking a vitamin pill a day. The ART suppresses the viral load, so blood test every 3 months reveal two readings - viral load and CD4 count. Low viral load and high CD 4 count is something people look for, you may have seen the word 'Undetectable'. People with undetectable cannot transmit their virus during sex, however being undetectable does not mean they are cured. If they ceased taking the medication then their viral load will increase, and their immune system is weakened. So people living with HIV often need to remember to take their meds to live a healthy life.
The combination is prescribed by a dedicated GP or HIV specialist who looks after the patient’s well being, with sexual health and blood test every few months. The patient’s background health is taken into consideration, much like other medicines for any illnesses, there are often side effects but can be managed over time. For example, a certain pill may deteriorate the bones and if the patient has bone health issues, the medical professional is required to alter the medications. Findings and data emerge over time based on people who take the medication. Advancement in medicines means that new drugs are available for patients.
- People living with HIV have lower immune systems. If they keep a healthy lifestyle they are just as good with body functions as anyone else. If their lifestyles include recreational drugs, alcohol, smoking and many late nights then it is something they need to take inconsideration -- is it all worth it? But that should be the same question to be asked for anyone even without HIV. I think we have learnt from the pandemic that we know what is best for ourselves during time of crisis
- People living with HIV can be as vulnerable as anyone else in the community and they have often faced rejections or abandonment, however they don’t need pity. Pity does not do you or them any good, most people have dealt with it, accepted the way of the world. We can all learn to be a better person by educating ourselves. When you have the right information, you can pay it forward by teaching others about HIV/AIDS. In saying that Poz people have stronger will in life and can probably be more ambitious with life living without fear because they have nothing to lose.
- People living with HIV deal with life differently, just like any other terminal illnesses. This can be both ends of the spectrum.
- Some people have ongoing counselling to deal with issues they may have, whether it is coping with living with HIV or life in general. Some may over think a scenario which leads to self isolation from the society or even self harm. Then there is also rejections on dating apps, rejection from family or friends. It can lead to depression and even long term mental issues.
- Some people can also have a new awakening, they don't let HIV defines them, another day is just ANOTHER DAY. It can be easy or hard like any other human being, they look at life under a totally new light, focusing on things that matter in life, being with people who matter to them, not judging them for who they are.
- There are others who just block that memory and get on with their lives, some days they may break, but everyone has their own coping mechanism.
- People living with HIV often look at life differently but since death is no longer part of the equation, they are faced with different challenges that you may not aware of, for example travel, finding a partner who accepts HIV status, getting a job that requires a 100% healthy body. Challenges can be easily tackled, like anything in life if they put their minds to it. Some professions also require blood test so if found they may not be hired, ie the Australian Army, because they feel that people living with HIV are not perfect fit for being in employment as it may compromise with their ability to function.
It is also important to note that even the government agency can fuck up in terms of insensitivity, obviously written by an uneducated straight man. Prior to 2016, The Defence Force of Australia misused the word AIDS when referring to HIV. You can read more about the change of wording on Australian Defence Force website that can help reduce HIV Stigma here.
Some countries ban people with HIV from entering their countries. The USA was one of these countries but in 2009, President Obama lifted the ban so that people living with HIV could enter the country. “National restrictions on entry, stay, and residence for persons living with HIV are discriminatory and violate fundamental rights of people living with HIV” A lot of skilled workers with HIV could enter the USA for work. Many other countries followed. Prior to the lift, people would travel to America with their medication hidden inside vitamin bottles in order to get through the custom or security. There was risk of getting caught or being deported.
Actually it was only recently that New Zealand lifted the ban. You can check out the latest updates on bans on this map. Some of the world’s top businesses signed a petition for the ban to lift so that their employees can travel to work in other countries without any issues. These businesses include Gucci, Versace, Prada, Microsoft, Google just to name a few “New data show that in 2019 around 48* countries and territories still have restrictions that include mandatory HIV testing and disclosure as part of requirements for entry, residence, work and/or study permits” UNAIDS welcomes New Zealand’s decision to lift travel restrictions for people living with HIV | UNAIDS Some of these restrictions mean that travellers can be asked to have blood test on entry, some leads to deportation. So if you plan to go to Brunei, Korea or Russia as a Poz.. think again.. you can't.
- There is no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS. If you have lived through the COVID Pandemic, you know of virus transmission via touching, and being coughed on. However you need to know that this is not how HIV can be transmitted, it is not airborne and it does not stick on surfaces. You cannot get HIV from hugging, hand shakes, standing next to them on the tram or being coughed on.
Are the people in the gay community getting the messages across about HIV, social issues with HIV stigma and different types of discrimination towards HIV positive people. HIV health and culture should be second nature for every single gay man and people should be talking about this in their catch ups. Women comfortably talk about PMS and breast cancer with other women all the time, whereas men are usually too proud to discuss their prostate or seek medical help for anything. If we are already talking about sex then HIV health should not be a touchy subject.
As some of you know that we at Stanley Burton has contributed to the fundraising at Thorne Harbour this year. We also want to be informative about HIV/AIDS. Infectious disease like HIV still comes with a lot of stigma and the LGBTQI community.
I have included the link to Thorne Harbour, please reach out to the organisation for more info
Let's keep this conversation going. Feel free to share this post around. Your friends will thank you for the information.