December 1st marks World AIDS Day, and while many people don’t think they relate to this holiday, it’s a day we should all be celebrating– whether that be celebrating our friends living with AIDS or celebrating the long way science has come in educating us about this disease. A lot has changed, but that doesn’t mean there’s room for more improvement. Can simply talking about HIV/AIDS make an impactful change? Actually, yes. A very important one.
The Real Problem
Our attitudes. HIV does not discriminate, it isn’t geared for any particular sex groups. It can affect anyone. These are people like you and me, our family members, our neighbors, the strangers that kindly open doors for us. It’s time to put the “human” back in human immunodeficiency virus. For example, when we think of cancer, those who encounter this disease are victims of it, but when we think about HIV/AIDS, there’s an insidious thinking that it’s someone’s fault. There is no room for blame, and we will not perpetuate this stigma any longer.
HIV = AIDS = Death. This is the equation most people mistakenly believe, but it turns out that as much as we want to internalize things by putting them into simple equations, life doesn’t work like that. And thankfully so, when it comes to this equation. We should be careful about how we talk about HIV because language matters. It’s a way in which we can help destigmafy this disease. There is one equation, however, that we’ve discovered true over time. Undetectable = untransmittable. This means that an HIV positive person cannot transmit HIV to an HIV negative person when they are undetectable, which people usually don’t realize.
We all contribute to the collaborative story that is HIV since we all have an HIV status, whether that be negative or positive. So instead of saying “people with HIV” we can say “those of us who are HIV positive” because it expresses inclusivity. It not only comes down to how we talk about HIV, but how we react to it. Part of that is simply educating ourselves about the disease. You cannot transmit HIV through a handshake or toilet seat. HIV is not a gay-specific problem. Talking about sex in general is not easy, but it’s important to identify these misconceptions to move past them.
Take Real Action
Thanks to science, HIV is not the death sentence it was in the 80s. While HIV work has changed drastically over the past few decades, from HIV-specific health practitioners spending most of their time planning around patients’ end-of-life care, there is still work to be done in the community. Housing is especially important to get people off the streets where their health is highly compromised and creates conditions that are less likely for them to be taking their medications. Access to running water, a consistent schedule, and other simplicities are key for any of us to maintain our health, especially in vulnerable populations.
When we remove the fear and shame around HIV/AIDS, we make it easier for those who have the disease to speak up and educate others. One in every 303 people is HIV positive. We don’t say this to scare you in how prevalent it is, but to remind you that we can’t gloss over these statistics as numbers we simply hear on the news. This is about us and the community we all belong to– humanity.
The Real Heroes
If you’re interested in helping raise awareness of HIV/AIDS through monetary or time contribution, check out the awesome NGOs below.
The Global Fund
International Aids Society
Kaiser Family Foundation
Elton John AIDS Foundation
The Mercury Phoenix Trust
If one of your friends told you they were HIV positive, would you offer them friendship, support and love without fear? We hope the answer is yes. Remember that you may easily be part of someone’s first exchange when discovering they have HIV or AIDS, and the way you react can be a defining moment for them.
HIV may be life-changing, but it is not life-defining. It is a manageable chronic illness when taken care of. You may be thinking, “Why should I get tested?” because of reasons x, y and z. But the real question is “Why shouldn’t I get tested?” Make it a part of your annual health routine. You have nothing to lose, and only education and compassion to gain.