December 2, 2015
Another World AIDS Day has passed, but nothing seems to really change. This morning in The New York Times, there was an op-ed piece that starts with a mention that new infections outpace the rate of people getting on anti-viral treatment, which is no different than it was during all the feel-good early PEPFAR days. And here in the US, hundreds of thousands of people diagnosed with HIV are not in treatment. The piece ends with a recognition that current measures may not be enough to end the pandemic, and some are saying a focus should be on a vaccine to prevent infection and a cure to eliminate the virus from those infected. While this may be true, as long as people think of HIV with judgment and stigma, getting these out to people
For me, this message may as well be 2005, not 2015. The status quo has held. Perhaps the most telling affirmation of this is the response to the news that Charlie Sheen has HIV, and the reactions of people. Sheen is a person with known addictions and mental health conditions, both of which are part of the HIV syndemic, and yet the public responses exposed the high levels of stigma, ignorance and blame that are major fuelers of HIV.
The fundamental problem is that the myopic approach keeps the blinders on, and this plays out in culture. I heard a message the other day in a church service where the topic was a broader message about engagement in social justice, getting grounded, being discomforted and going out to change the world. "We don't need to know more; we need to do more" was a big part of the message. This is true with HIV as well. While a cure is something to keep pursuing, we really don't need to know more. We just need to do more. For many people, this simply means getting tested, recognizing that when everyone does this with the right intent, good information and love transcending fear, stigma will ultimately lessen. Everyone plays a role in this work.