UK News World AIDS Day: More people should know with HIV, being undetectable means it’s untransmittable

10:35  01 december  2021
10:35  01 december  2021 Source:   inews.co.uk

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1 December is World Aids Day . It can be confronting to see all those images from the 80 s and memories of those who died. We ' re in a different world now, yet many people still avoid being tested or stigmatise others living with HIV . Send all the undectable studies where they found if a HIV person was undectable, they didn't transmit HIV . There are several studies that found people who were HIV positive and took meds did not transmit HIV . Apparently HIV researchers had an idea that undectable = untransmittable about 15 years when they realised HIV + mothers did not transmit HIV to their babies.

One such disease is AIDS ( Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome ) caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV . This virus has claimed 36.3 million lives, seven times more than the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and “continues to be a Hence, to spread awareness around this serious disease, World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 every year. There is a lot of misinformation and myths around the disease, which might be because of the associated stigma. This can discourage people to seek proper aid and can even fuel further misinformation.

I don’t think I ever really woke up one day and thought: “Today, I’m going to be an activist.”

But I’ve always had this background noise in my head that social injustice was wrong.

The life I’d go on to know, educating people about HIV; hosting a podcast about the untold stories of positive people 40 years after the HIV epidemic began; running a not-for-profit that promotes the health and wellbeing of under-served communities; setting up a digital archive of vintage photos of the black British gay community – would come much, much later.

At the start, it was all about trying to make a change for the men that were close to me. That didn’t happen until I was in my early 20s, however, because I was traumatised after my own HIV diagnosis while living in Brixton, where I grew up.

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People are saying that current meds make it untransmittable and undetectable . It may be possible to reduce new HIV infections to very low levels in much of the world with current No, because being undetectable doesn’t mean that your viral load (number of virus copies in the blood) is If a person living with HIV is on ART (antiretroviral therapy) and has an undetectable viral load as a result of it

U=U means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load—the amount of HIV in the blood—by taking and adhering to antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others. Writing in JAMA, officials from NIH’ s National Institute of Allergy NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune -mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials

During that time, I was given the numbers of the Terrence Higgins Trust, and a small organisation called Body Positive. You rang, got transferred to somebody else’s home, and then they spoke to you. I remember speaking to a guy who told me that he was also positive, and that I was going to be okay. It gave me a little sense of peace. At that time, I knew I wasn’t going to die that night. But everything else was a mystery.

When I learned I had HIV, I was operating in this very small community where people knew I had the virus and gossiped about it. It made me incredibly angry. It wasn’t until 1990, when I was asked to run a workshop for black gay men at The Landmark, a centre for people living with HIV and AIDS in London, that not only had nobody taught me about avoiding HIV; nobody had taught me how to be a gay man.

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World AIDS Day , designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.

World Aids Day is an annual opportunity for people to fight against and destigmatise the virus . “Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. “Despite this, each year in the UK over 4,139 people are diagnosed with HIV , people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.

About three months later, I got around to telling my family. The experience was wildly different compared to coming out, which I’d done a week after my 16th birthday in 1985 – first, to my mum. My dad found out about five years later. Coming to terms with my HIV diagnosis, however, felt much less cosy because my whole world changed. Not because my family didn’t offer support, but because of how I felt about it – and how little society knew about what living with HIV could look like back then.

Rock Hudson had died a week around the time I came out in 1985. So I knew that AIDs was an illness that affected gay men, but in my mind’s eye it was rich, Hollywood gay men who lived in New York and San Francisco. It felt so distant in my very, very small circle of gay friends.

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In those days especially, mainstream organisations and groups for gay men presented a particular view of the world, often from a white perspective. There were differences in the language they used, in the images they used in campaigns; it didn’t seem apparent what other types of gay people – in my case, black men – might need specifically. That’s the world black gay men and young men of colour often have to navigate, even today. I, however, was lucky enough to find black gay spaces early on.

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Overall, about 53% knew HIV could not be transmitted by individuals with undetectable viral levels - so little virus in their blood that it can't be found with lab tests. Almost 84% of HIV -positive men understood that undetectable effectively means untransmittable , compared with 54% of HIV -negative men, according to "First, people who incorrectly assume sex with undetectable partners is risky are more likely to seek out HIV -negative partners, but a person in the early stages of infection who has not yet been diagnosed has extremely high viremia and is the greatest risk of transmission, so there is a

People living with HIV who achieve viral suppression, who become undetectable , are the solution to the end of new HIV infections in the United States… When we look back 20 years from now we ’ re going to judge ourselves in terms of how well we responded to this opportunity.” Not so fast. There is some strong resistance to a message that equates undetectable to untransmittable , and it ’ s not coming from where you might think. Here are five reasons why this breakthrough message matters. 1. The science is solid.

My first was a small black gay party that my first boyfriend took me to when I was 16. It was Saturday, the 13 July 1985. Live Aid was on and I remember the door being opened by this six foot-odd queen who was camp, warm and welcoming. It was exactly like the parties my mum and dad and uncles and aunts had – but filled with men. They drank rum punch and they played reggae and soca and soul and R&B and I was frightened and I was nervous because this was brand new – except, I didn’t feel out of place.

After my diagnosis some years later, organisations like the Terrence Higgins Trust had only been going for a few years, so I was just hoping from one week to the next that my doctors, who, even with little that they knew, were able to constantly reassure me every time I went to the clinic. The Terrence Higgins Trust was a warm, loving environment where I felt safe. But wasn’t until I went to Black Gay Pride in Washington DC, in 1996, that I had my Damascus moment.

When I arrived, I went to this support group for black people living with HIV called “Us Helping Us”, which was run by a fantastic scholar and activist who sadly passed away last year called Dr. Ron Simmons. On Sundays they had this church service and positive people came up on stage and testified. I met so many other black gay people who were living with HIV openly and proudly and I came from the church service that day, called my mum and said: “I know why I got this virus, I got it to change things.”

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When I came back to London, I left Big Up, the country’s first organisation specifically funded to do work and prevention and support work for black men around HIV, where I was a project coordinator. I decided to build up my skills and knowledge of health promotion theory and practice and went to work for a Health Authority for four years in community development and then came back and ran national campaigns for the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Things changed so much when advances in HIV treatment came along between 2008-09, when studies showed that with treatment, you can’t pass HIV on. But there’s still so much more to be done. Will Nutland and I, my business partner, started PrEPster as a six-month project in 2015 to give clinicians and people at risk of HIV tools to advocate for PrEP (the drug that can prevent transmission of HIV), because we started to get lots of queries from men and clinicians and PrEP wasn’t available. We’re still here six years later. Clearly, 40 years after the epidemic, the need for this sort of work is still vital.

While it’s fantastic that PrEP is now available on the NHS in England and at all NHS clinics, the challenge is that communities of colour and those whose first language isn’t English are still less aware of what PrEP is, or that they might benefit from taking it. PrEP uptake has been much higher among white gay men who live in London and other big cities.

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If we’re thinking about women who may be more at risk from HIV who would benefit from PrEP, especially women of colour or women who were born overseas, very often those women only go to sexual health clinics reactively (when something is wrong) rather than proactively. Barriers to access would improve dramatically if PrEP was available in GP clinics, pharmacies and anywhere you might get the contraceptive pill. We also need to make sure that information about PrEP speaks to a wide and diverse range of people, especially in terms of the aforementioned groups.

U=U sits hand and hand with advocating for PrEP because it shows that people who are positive are no longer infectious if we take on medication

As well as general stigma, the idea that HIV positive people will always be vectors of illness, and therefore the responsibility for HIV prevention rests solely with us, has been incredibly hard to shift. U=U (which means that when one’s viral load becomes undetectable through effective HIV treatment, that person is also unable to pass HIV on through sex) changed that for me, and for a lot of other positive people, particularly around sex. There was this idea that the only reason I’m telling you about my HIV status is because there’s some weird moral imperative attached to it. But actually, I don’t need to tell you if I’m undetectable at all, because I can’t pass it on to you.

U=U is also important because it’s about more than sex. I know stories of black African women who have been highly stigmatised and internalise this stigma, because they feel that they can constantly pass HIV on (even in situations where they can’t). Now, they’re like, “oh, actually, I don’t have to bleach the house when the children come around”, which of course shows there’s still a need to improve education about HIV, as transmitting HIV doesn’t work that way. Representation is an issue too. I watched It’s A Sin, Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 series about the HIV epidemic, back in January, like millions of other people. It was great, but I kept thinking where are “we” – LGBT people of colour, women, and countless other voices – in these retrospectives on the epidemic? Women have always been invisible in terms of representation, conversations tend to leave their experiences out. U=U sits hand and hand with advocating for PrEP because it shows that people who are positive are no longer infectious if we take on medication.

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What we’re seeing now with my trans siblings in terms of inadequate access to healthcare is exactly what happened to the queer community in the 80s. Sexual health and HIV today continues to disproportionately impact black, brown and migrant communities. The decline of sex and relationships education in our schools and the disappearance of physical queer spaces and communities also means we’re setting up young people and young communities of colour to become even more vulnerable.

Activism doesn’t always have to come from a position of deficit, however. There’s also real power, beauty and joy in bringing communities together. I often say when I talk about black people going clubbing or out partying, we don’t just throw raves because white people won’t let us in. We do it because you’ve got curry goat, you’ve got plantain, you have rum punch; we do it because we love being with each other. And we need to be unapologetic about that.

We Were Always Here, my podcast, reiterates the importance of that. We recorded over 50 people over the course of a year and it was incredible, emotional, inspiring, tiring – but also really, really funny. I got to speak to people I have worked with for 20 or 30 years, people I’d never spoken to before. There are conversations in which people talk about the people that died, their anger about the system, or going to a meeting at the Terrence Higgins Trust and being the only black person there…and sometimes it would just be: “Do you remember that time you went down the pub after that funeral and somebody stole somebody’s knickers?”

It reminded me that although we’ve struggled, we’ve also experienced and created joy to hold each other together throughout those periods. When I was at Big Up, we threw some of the best black gay parties this country has ever seen because we needed to. When you’re dealing with death and illness and the world doesn’t care, you need to let off steam. And we certainly did. We still should.

World AIDS Day is always an important date in my calendar because it’s an opportunity for us all to remember those whose lives were lost to the pandemic. We also need to continue to raise awareness and advocate for those of us who live with HIV. Although most people who take antiretroviral treatment become undetectable, there are still significant numbers of people who don’t have access to treatment globally, aren’t able to achieve an undetectable viral load, and therefore are at risk of illness and possibly passing the virus on. HIV is a global issue, it’s not about just what goes on in the UK. We need to double our efforts to make sure there’s good, equitable access to treatment for everyone.

Marc Thompson is Director of health charity The Love Tank and co-founder of HIV prevention initiative PrEPster and Black & Gay, Back in the Day

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