Whether the new decade begins Jan 1, 2020 and ends Dec 31, 2029 or starts Jan 1, 2021 and finishes Dec 31, 2030, one thing is certain: it’s been nearly forty years of the HIV/AIDS era, which began in 1981. While we cannot predict what it brings, or decide how the decade is determined, we can wish for a bright future. Here’s part one of twenty things you might want to get straight [not in that way] in 2020 and for decades to follow.
#1 U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable), Talk about it, Y’all!
Undetectable is the real deal that we CANNOT pass HIV to an intimate (sexual) partner. For the uninitiated, achieving an undetectable viral load (viral suppression) with effective treatment is the “holy grail”. Scientific research proves that medication keeps us healthier, and means ZERO risk of passing HIV along to anyone. This makes being undetectable frontline prevention. The only risk is we fall in love with someone and have great sex without fear. We work hard to reach undetectable. Let’s celebrate and enjoy this together.
#2 Stop HIV Stigma
It’s really, really hard to share HIV with someone. We know how it can happen and we know how it cannot. The ignorance and fear that feeds stigma hurts us and confuses everyone. We beat ourselves up and get bullied already. A recent study from the Kantar Group has Generation Z and millennials admitting to avoiding “hugging, talking to, or being friends with someone with HIV.” So, repeat after me: “In 2020, I will hug a person with HIV and shake their hands because casual contact poses no threat of HIV to me.”
#3 Use HIV preferred language
Words are dynamic and change like the wind. Remember when we downloaded everything? Now we stream it. Language around HIV changes too. Use person first language. We are people living with HIV. Oh, you can’t get to AIDS without HIV first. So, let’s drop the A-word. It’s outdated like “full blown A-word”. We can honor lost loved ones and respect the survivors in a less stigmatizing way.
#4 Housing is health care
We need more options for affordable housing in New Orleans. This is a challenge for everyone. Stable housing is the first step for good health. Housing is basic to everything else we do like being employed, going to the doctor, and functioning to our maximum. Sadly, when it comes to housing for HIV (fyi, it’s a disability), there’s still discrimination. We need more protections against that too.
#5 HIV experts
As people living with HIV, we are experts with lived experience of existing with this. Don’t make decisions about us without us. Have a seat at the table and make sure we can eat there too. We’re not tokens. Having us in the room is not enough. Create channels for input and use that to inform change.
#6 Routine HIV testing
Everyone has an HIV status. Know yours. Encourage testing everywhere and make it routine. When was your last HIV test? Every sexually active person needs an HIV test at least once in a lifetime. The more sex you have, the more often you might want to be tested. Has your health care specialist (doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant) ever offered one? Why not just make it a routine screening for every adult and give them choice to opt out or refuse it?
#7 Same Day HIV treatment
Starting treatment the same day you learn you’re living with HIV keeps your immune system intact and gets you to undetectable faster (see #1). You’re now in the driver’s seat. There’s plenty of evidence to show that starting treatment early could mean living longer.
#8 Common Sense to prevention
We have the tools to prevent HIV: U=U, PrEP, Condoms, and common sense. I could add abstinence but that’s not common sense to anything. PrEP is pretty new here but we cannot put all our eggs in a single basket. Let’s break it down: U=U prevents sharing HIV with someone else; PrEP prevents acquiring HIV from another; condoms are a barrier for this and for sexually transmitted infections (syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia).
#9 Affordable access to medications
We have dozens of new HIV medications that are used to treat and to prevent HIV now. They are all expensive. Monthly out-of-pocket costs, even with insurance, can stop us from getting the care we need. Yes, there are programs to help, but there has to be a better way. Support efforts for real reform to affordable and accessible health care for all.
#10 Elections AND Erections Matter
2020 is an election year and every vote counts. Make sure you’re registered to vote in the presidential election. Regardless of your persuasion (okay, it personally matters to me) just be prepared to vote. Vote in every election and keep it up [smile]. Learn about platforms, candidates, and ballots on every level. Help with voter registrations. Take a neighbor to vote. It’s a right and privilege we can’t waste.
Be sure to check in the next issue for A Fistful of Wishes, Part 2 … until then.