On the days leading to the writing of this article, I casually asked six of my friends’ random questions about HIV and AIDS. I was really just doing research and collecting information about how informed we are as a society about said issues. Whereas six young people who spend too much time on their phones and have a dependency on alcohol cannot accurately represent the demographic of our country, something tells me that my findings might be quite relatable to most of you.
Many moons ago I decided to dedicate one day of every year towards the education of prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. As it turns out, that particular day is the first day of December; HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is a day that in the recent past, has become very close to my heart. Having lost a close friend to HIV, I was curious to know why they died, when everyone in the world was saying that HIV was no longer a death sentence. This article, as those that came before and the ones that will come after, is a dedication to those we have lost and the champions that continue to tame this virus.
Mother tells me that in the late 1990s when HIV was still considered a global epidemic, ten people in our village succumbed to AIDS in a span of two months. The medication at the time cost around 40-50 thousand. Not to mention the immense stigma attached to not those affected, but also their families and friends. Much of that stigma still exists to this day, AIDS is considered a disease for the most immoral, being that most infections are sexually transmitted. This stigma has led to people seeking treatment in secrecy and disguise because the world would judge and shame them if they knew.
To my six friends, I asked them if they knew of anyone who had tested positive for HIV. If yes, I was curious to know how differently they treated them after this discovery. Blunt and candid, some admitted that they could no longer look at them the same. They explained that there was a sudden hesitation of not wanting to associate with them or even get close to them. “That is how we define Stigma”, I told them. It makes sense that people die with their diagnosis because they never feel comfortable enough to share this very intimate information with everyone.
Would you date someone who was HIV positive?
It was an outstanding NO for everyone, with my spirited friends defending their answers with the most predictable statement, “I don’t want to risk getting it!”. To this, I responded with two words. “Misinformation and Ignorance”. You see, people date people, they don’t date their afflictions or the things in their lives that they might be struggling with. It is small-minded to reject someone you have a genuine connection with, purely based on something that they cannot change. At the end of the day, it is a personal choice but let it be a well-informed choice, not one based on fear and self-preservation.
Whereas this term might sound foreign to most, it is actually very popular in the circles of this discussion. It basically means, that when the virus is undetectable, you cannot transmit it, hence Undetectable=Untransmittable. The progression of science over the years has birthed an antiretroviral treatment that is so effective, it completely suppresses the virus in the bloodstream of an infected person. All individuals need to do is be disciplined throughout the treatment without missing a dose of their medication.
Granted, it might be a difficult journey to get to a point where you completely suppress the virus, depending on how infected you are when you commence treatment, but it is possible and doable. Once the viral load is confirmed to be at a level where it is undetectable, you can even have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive and be at no risk of getting infected. U=U doesn’t apply to other sexually transmitted diseases, so you still have to protect yourself from those. Having unprotected sex with an infected person and not contracting it might sound wild, but it is pure facts.
A fancy medical blog defines a discordant relationship as a pair of long-term sexual partners in which one has a sexually transmitted infection and the other does not. While doing my extensive research on this topic, I encountered a YouTube video of a discordant couple that had been together for years. The woman was positive whereas the man was negative. They had been blessed with two children, all of whom had been conceived while their mother was positive, but they (the children) were negative. If this surprises you, then you should dedicate some time towards catching up with the progress of treatment and probably unlearning some of the things we grew up knowing about HIV/AIDS.
Let’s take this day to reflect. I wish we could all look deep within ourselves and realise that no one truly has the answers to life, we are all simply having a human experience and oftentimes, we go down paths we didn’t anticipate. Being HIV positive shouldn’t be a parameter we use to measure a person’s character or morals. It is simply a medical diagnosis like any other, so let’s refrain from being too judgmental and subscribing to behaviours of stigmatisation. Should you or someone you know ever find themselves with a positive diagnosis, understand that it is not a death sentence. If you are determined enough, you can still live a, long fulfilling life.
“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.” – Elizabeth Taylor.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.