Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected the Catholic Church’s Pope, taking the name Francis, (The first time a pope has taken that name). The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be pontiff.
Appearing on a balcony over St Peter’s Square in Rome yesterday, he asked the crowds to pray for him, with cheers erupting as he gave a blessing. Messages of goodwill have poured in from around the world. The Pope’s inaugural Mass will be next Tuesday.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he showed compassion for HIV/AIDS patients, when in 2001 he visited a drugs rehabilitation centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he is from and washed the feet of twelve recovering drug addicts, diagnosed with HIV during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
Each year, repeating the gesture, said to be done by Jesus at the Last Supper with the Apostles, is a reminder of the attitude the church says it should have.
The following video contains photo slides from the event.
Late Sunday night, the world media started to report about a baby, born with HIV had been cured. Everybody got talking; scientists, people of faith, doctors, the public, HIV experts, me, you!
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a cure, I honestly didn’t think I’d be writing the phrase ‘HIV Cure’ for at least a few more years yet, but as it were, we were given a flurry of media reports about how this case was set to change the HIV treatment paradigm, prevent babies from being infected, and, to quote the principal author of the study, Dr Deborah Persaud, “transform our current treatment practices in newborns worldwide”.
There are reports that parents and guardians are asking if this means that children who are infected at birth can stop their drugs. People are very over-optimistic, and have been calling their doctors and specialists raising the question of whether they, or their child could also be cured!
More Data Needed
We need to slow down, and get some perspective. The news was only announced five days ago.
To quote a famous professor of HIV pharmacology: “We need more data.” We need to take stock, get the facts right, and allow for scrutiny of the case by the scientific community.
There are many questions to be asked of the case. For instance, was the baby truly infected in the first place? From reviewing the data presented at the conference, it certainly seems possible. But how established was this infection? Had it established itself in so-called long-lived memory T cells?
Furthermore, when was the actual point of infection? This is not clear. Could it have been just prior to delivery? If so, it is possible that by serendipity the doctors intervened with drugs just as the virus was trying to become established.
A Cure, or PEP?
It’s imperative, then, that we attempt to understand when exactly this baby was infected. Was it just before birth, or several months before birth? The longer the period of time, the more interesting the case becomes.
However, if the intervention simply aborted the establishment of infection then Dr Persaud’s results are less exciting.
If drugs were introduced very shortly after infection, the treatment may have actually acted as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) – a strategy already used by HIV doctors to try and avoid establishment of infection
Think of a fire which has just caught alight, but has yet really to take hold. Pouring a bucket of water on it at this point may kill the fire dead. Was there actually a flame, or the presence of detectable virus, in this case? Yes, of course. But this bucket of water may not have worked had you allowed the ‘fire’ to become properly established.
The case being described by many as a ‘cure’ may in fact be like this bucket of water – effective, but only because it was delivered so early.
Taking the fire analogy further, after we have put out the flames we may still see the residues it left behind. It might even reignite at a later point in time. The Mississippi baby has been off anti-retroviral drug treatment [ARVs] for less than a year – there are currently no flames, but we are waiting to see if the embers are truly burned out.
Currently, and beyond this headline case, we have no way to completely put out the fire of HIV once it has caught hold. Our current ARV treatments, then, are the firemen who keep the flames of HIV at bay. As long as they are there, you can begin to rebuild the house – a fact born out by the fact that hundreds of thousands of our patients have been on totally suppressive regimens for up to twenty years.
Currently, it is a truth that, if you stop therapy, the virus inevitably rebounds when you –cease medication usually within two weeks. Admittedly, there are a very few rare cases where the virus may simply smoulder away at very low levels for many years (so-called “post treatment controllers”).
All of these considerations and unanswered questions mean that we have a long way to go yet before we fully understand this case. We must fully explore the baby’s immune make-up. What about the characteristics of the mother’s virus, which was curiously low for someone not on treatment? There are so many questions before we should really call this a cure.
Other than the potential of Dr Persaud’s research to stimulate further investigations, then, what is the best thing that can come of all this media frenzy?
The great hope is that this moment represents the greatest mass HIV awareness campaign since the Don’t Die of Ignorance ‘tombstone’ campaign of the 1980s. Rarely does HIV make such headlines, and we have a real chance to educate people whilst their interest is piqued.
We must tell people that the story of HIV is very different now, and we must take this opportunity to communicate new messages through the media whose attention we currently have – messages which can correct people’s out-dated misconceptions.
Let’s talk about testing, andthe importance of early diagnosis.
Let’s talk about effective drugs, which when prescribed early enough can help a patient live a long and full life.
Let’s talk about condoms and prevention.
Let’s tackle stigma!
Today there is no reason for any baby to be become HIV positive, if the mother is tested and diagnosed early in pregnancy – and if she and the baby have access to effective treatments which can prevent transmission. Sadly, 590,000 babies every year are still born HIV-positive in the developing world: an unnecessary tragedy.
We can do something about that right now, with the tools we have – If we increase testing and make it more regular and consistent. In the UK, 95% of women take the HIV tests during pregnancy. And with effective treatment the chance of the baby being born positive is less than 0.5%. We should be aiming for the same success all over the world
Above and beyond a media storm about a supposed ‘cure’, there are good news stories we can make happen today.
Is the ‘cure’ story exciting? Yes. Is it scientifically plausible? Yes. Will it stimulate more research? Almost certainly. But it is extremely premature to hail it as a cure that will translate into routine clinical care any time soon. We need much more data.
So if you or your child are HIV-positive, then please… don’t stop taking your tablets. And if you have had unprotected sex, take the test. Condoms, education, testing, and access to treatment are our real weapons against HIV, and we need to learn to use these correctly if we want to make a real impact today.
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A HIV positive jobseeker has said he was left humiliated by staff at a Kent job centre.
Jayce Carberry said staff in Maidstone made him declare his condition within earshot of others, and told him he had to see a disability adviser.
He said an adviser also said he would seek legal advice about what contact Mr Carberry could have with other staff. The government said jobseekers were asked if they had a condition which could affect certain jobs.
Former hairdresser Mr Carberry said he went to the job centre a few weeks ago to discuss his options.
He said he was not disabled, and the advisor asked if he could write his HIV status in his notes, he said. Mr Carberry said he did not want it mentioned.
“His [the adviser's] reply was I’ll have to speak to my legal team to see if we have to disclose your HIV status to any members of the staff you come into contact with in this building,” Mr Carberry said.
“Obviously I was a bit speechless.
“For somebody to make a comment like that, it just takes you all the way back to the beginning and your self-esteem is shattered, you go back to feeling ashamed.
“You’re subjected to that stigma and it’s really upsetting.”
Equalities Minister Helen Grant has written to the job centre
Equalities Minister Helen Grant, Mr Carberry’s MP, said she had written to the job centre and to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to raise her concerns.
Ms Grant, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weal, said: “It’s absolutely right that if people like Jayce do what they’ve done – go out, try to get work – that they should be given all the help and support that they need and deserve and at the same time, they must be treated with absolute dignity and respect.”
The Department for Work and Pensions, which speaks for job centres, said people did not officially have to declare medical conditions when applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
What are your experiences when seeking work? Have you ever had to disclose your status unwillingly? Does HIV status even matter when seeking work (as opposed to starting work) and do you feel you should disclose to staff at Job Centres.
We often talk about prejudice and stigma relating to HIV / AIDS, and in everything we do, attempt to combat this stigma. Not enough people stand out, and sometimes those that do, speak about stigma on a grand scale. Coming up, Rich Juzwiak, an editor at Gawker has posted a wonderful, honest and frank article about understanding the nature of HIV in the context of sex between men from a presumed HIV negative viewpoint.
What is particularly noteworthy is Rich’s unbiased honesty and openness throughout his article. By asking the right questions to people he is meeting for sex (or not) he’s gained a much improved understanding of viral load, and the risk factors involved when meeting people for sex. Sharing his experiences not only provides an education and insight to HIV negative people, but also informs HIV positive people just how little knowledge there is on viral load and transmission.
In addition to the work of organisations like LASS, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and many, many more, the real advocates are the people (regardless of HIV status) who ask questions, understand what’s going on and share their knowledge to the wider public so we can all know our HIV status and enjoy shared companionship whether that intimacy is based on sex, or conversation.
(Would you like to listen to this article instead? Click the play button below…)
The first guy I ever turned down on Grindr for having HIV, my patient zero if you will, is all kinds of hot: hot in the face, hot in the body and hotheaded. In May, he asked me to come over and make out. We chatted a little bit more, he told me about his status and I slipped out of the conversation, just like that. Randomly in July, I noticed him at a movie theater: On Grindr and online, people lie with pictures all the time, choosing ones that distort their appearance in a captured second, but I was able to pick Miguel right out of a crowd. His picture is a symbol of habitual honesty, maybe, but also because he’s so attractive, he has no reason to lie.
“This always happens: someone will feel bad and then they’ll see me out and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, you’re so fucking hot,’” Miguel told me while we waited for our table outside of a Chelsea brunch spot one Saturday in early July after I reconnected and asked him to talk to me.
Miguel told me that being turned down for sex because he’s HIV-positive is something that happens “all the time,” and that “almost every time, the minute someone gets to know me, their mind changes.” Exposure to a gay friend often converts homophobes swiftly; the same can be said of an HIV-positive guy meeting others who are fearful. It’s somewhat reassuring that that’s all it takes in many cases, but it also underlines the exponential burden put upon positive guys. They are either in a constant state of proving themselves socially or they are sitting on a secret.
As a gay man in New York with an active, multiple-partner sex life, the chances are that I have hooked up with an HIV-positive guy or five and didn’t know it. Maybe I didn’t know it because he didn’t know it. Maybe I didn’t know it because he was a liar. Maybe I didn’t ask.
Granted, I generally play it safe, keeping fluid exchange at a minimum, using condoms, opting for oral over anal almost every time, and especially with strangers. (Although, as we are coming to realize, oral sex maybe isn’t as safe as we’d like it to be). Even with that in mind, getting tested is never less than horrifying, no matter how regularly I do it. There have been times, especially after suffering from a weird flu-like bug that no one else around me seemed to contract, that I have been sure that I would test positive.
I haven’t yet. I think I’m HIV negative, but since the virus can take three months to show up in blood, I can’t really be sure. In fact, none of us who are sexually active can be sure – except for those who are HIV positive.
Therein lies the hypocrisy in turning down a potential hookup who a) knows his status, and b) is honest about it in favor of one who doesn’t or is lying about it. That kind of discrimination is motivated by fear of the known while taking an agnostic approach to the unknown. It’s especially foolhardy considering that guys who know they are HIV-positive tend to be healthier and with lower viral loads than guys who don’t know they have it and are going untreated. The kind of optimism that assumes someone’s word is as good as a hard copy of a test result is potentially life-altering.
And yet, I’ve turned down guys who are open about their positive status. I watched the onset of AIDS in the ‘80s through the confused eyes of a child. I had it drilled into me that this was a disease to stay far, far away from. I also know better than to sleep with someone who announces himself as HIV positive. Or knew. Now I’m not exactly sure what to think. I feel guilty and scared, but not necessarily in that order.
I forgot to ask Giovanni* his status on Grindr before he came over. I remembered once he was inside of my apartment, discovered that he was HIV positive and asked if he’d like to be interviewed instead of hooking up. He agreed.
One of the first things we talked about was what complicates the situation the most: The widely held idea (at least among the HIV-positive guys I talked to for this story) that antiretroviral medication, which reduces the amount of HIV in a person’s blood to undetectable levels, is a contagion cure-all. That is to say that many people believe that it is virtually impossible for guys who identify as “poz but undetectable” to transmit HIV to a sex partner.
“I feel a little bit discriminated against just because if someone is taking care of themselves, there’s no risk on it, unless you have cuts or you’re bleeding,” Giovanni said. “But even then, you have to have a high viral load. If your status is undetectable, it’s very rare that someone else can catch from sucking.”
Giovanni contracted HIV about three years ago from his boyfriend who lied to him about his status: His partner said he was negative, they repeatedly had bareback sex, it turned out his partner was positive and it destroyed their relationship. “I blame myself,” he told me. His regard of personal responsibility is also present in his current philosophy regarding disclosure. If he’s not asked directly, he doesn’t open up about his HIV status.
“There are people that never ask me about my status, so I just go and assume that they have it,” he told me. “If you don’t ask me, I assume something’s wrong with you.”
I found this point of view disturbing, but most of what else Giovanni said was endearing. He told me that he empathizes with the people who are too scared to hook up with him and who turn him down: “I was there before it happened to me…I know how a person feels. When someone says you’re positive, your world changes.”
And so does the world of the person who has it. “It’s not hard to find somebody that accepts me the way that I am, but I don’t know…” he trailed off.
Before he left, I gave Giovanni a big hug. We were intimate and raw and we never took our clothes off. We talked about staying in touch and getting together again soon but it never ended up happening.
In early June, I lost interest in Chad when he told me he was “poz/undetectable” on Grindr. I didn’t respond to something he said, and 10 minutes later we shared this exchange:
Chad: Haha is that a no? I can take it Me: It’s so weird, the situation. I don’t want to seem like a dick or discriminate. You know? Chad: People discriminate all the time. But if u think I would put you at risk, I disagree. And guys think honesty makes things more dangerous. Me: Tell me more about how it wouldn’t put me at risk. Chad: Safe sex with an undetectable guy has no real risk, never been a documented case of transmission. But if you’re feeling spooked it’s no fun for either person . Xx. Me: I need to do more research. I didn’t know that. Chad: Take care.
I attempted to engage Chad again and he didn’t respond, not that I blamed him. In July, though, we met face-to-face through a mutual friend. I already knew who he was the second I set eyes on him from afar. From there we resumed communication and I’m glad: he’s attractive with intellect balanced out by an easygoing attitude. He’s exactly the kind of guy I want to be around. He’s also an AIDS activist, and thus particularly informed on the matter at hand.
“Lack of communication and lack of conversation around HIV is a big issue,” he said when I asked him about anti-HIV discrimination. “You have this turning point where the drugs start working well enough so that people won’t be outed by their physical appearance and then talking about HIV becomes a choice. Gay people were very tired of being associated with HIV and AIDS and it just kind of went underground. That’s the birthplace of the stigma. As soon as it became something you could disguise or put away, then it became a question of character.”
Chad’s activism doesn’t turn off when he logs onto Grindr. He says he regularly schools people on the app, as he did with me. He makes education sound like foreplay: he says the type of guys he’d be attracted to anyway are those who are knowledgeable on the subject or willing to learn. He told me that based on the information at hand, he can do “basically everything” in bed, just as long as he’s safe about it.
We talked a little bit about the rejection he’s faced from others like me, which sounds more patience-testing than soul-crushing. He bemoaned guys who “just go totally cold” and make things awkward when he reveals his status in person when he picks them up IRL (he says he always tells people in advance of meeting them if they initially connect online). “If you’re uncomfortable, fine. But communicate. It’s not the end of the world and you’re certainly not going to hurt my feelings. But it’s annoying to go through this beat-around-the-bush rejection process,” he told me.
I wondered about the other extreme: guys unafraid of having unsafe sex with him. He says he’s only experienced a “handful” of these, most of them “dedicated pigs who value raw butt sex.” Whether he would appease them depends on the dude.
Toward the end of our conversation, I apologized to Chad for brushing him off. He told me it was nothing, a blip in his life.
“If the situation presented itself again, you think the guy’s attractive and you’re still not comfortable, what do you say?” he asked, testing my apology.
I stammered and then finally: “It would depend on the level of attraction. But I don’t think I’m a firm no.”
“You’re weak now?” he asked, grinning.
There is an East vs. West Coast divide on attitudes about HIV positive guys, or so I hear from a new friend, Eddie, who I recently met through other friends. A resident of San Francisco, Eddie told me that uptightness or reluctance on this issue is something he’s only experienced on the East Coast.
“People in San Francisco especially, but on the West Coast [generally], as soon as you say you’re undetectable, it becomes like a free pass,” he explained. “‘Oh, you’re undetectable, and the risk is so minimal, and I’m a top and you’re a bottom, and that’s even less of a risk.’ I’m like, ‘I guess?’ I’m not willing to take that risk.”
He told me that when he was in the gay mecca of Provincetown, Mass., last year, he found himself in a group that was ridiculing someone they knew who was recently diagnosed. That pissed him off, and he told them as much. “On the East Coast, [contracting HIV is considered] your fault, on the West Coast, it’s, ‘That could be me, and so I understand where you’re coming from.’”
Eddie says his experiences with HIV hookups have been “80 percent positive, 20 percent negative.” He was diagnosed in 2003 and says it was “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.” It may seem unlikely, but sex ended up being therapeutic for him:
“When I started [dating and hooking up], and it wasn’t a big deal for other people, that really helped me. It really helped me realize that I can incorporate it into my identity.”
Eddie’s own journey to comfort exposes the contradictory cultural status HIV has right now: it’s both no big deal and a huge deal. It’s no big deal because the drugs that make HIV undetectable in blood have largely converted the disease into a manageable inconvenience. For many, it is not the death sentence it was. But for others it is: drugs are expensive and the high cost means that every minute, four people die of AIDS-related illness (as related in David France’s upcoming documentary How to Survive a Plague). The drugs can also have debilitating side effects, diminishing the quality of the life they are also saving. A relaxed, non-stigmatizing attitude is a nice thing for the world but complacency with a plague that continues to rage on is not.
Eddie said he understands his risk of transmission to be incredibly low. “I’ve dated people, and we’ve had unprotected sex, and we haven’t transmitted it. But, that’s in a different context than just hooking up with somebody, because you have that conversation and you make those decisions together,” he told me.
Eddie said he feels more discriminated against than stigmatized and pointed to the number of ways gay men can be socially awful to each other. “I think there are plenty of places where the gay community hurts itself—whether it’s through race, or class, or internalized homophobia. And also with HIV status.”
All of this is great and enlightening and galvanizing, but I still wasn’t sure about the information I was receiving. I know that part of taking care of yourself as an HIV positive individual involves educating yourself, and I have faith that these guys know their shit – much more than I did, at least. But the information that all of them hold true – that hooking up with a guy who is positive but undetectable will almost never or actually never result in the infection of a negative individual – it behooves them to hold true. Because they profess to be ethical people, they wouldn’t have casual sex if they didn’t believe this.
I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying that they could be biased. They are human, after all.
Through a friend, though, I was able to connect with Bryan Kutner, a counselor who was in South Africa working with an HIV-prevention group when I reached out to him. His is a key populations specialist and a consultant with Columbia University and the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Kutner pointed me to a recent study suggesting that just because HIV is undetectable in blood doesn’t mean it is undetectable in semen. It’s one study of a small sampling of HIV-positive men (81), but it does suggest that being undetectable isn’t the “free pass” that some would like it to be, maybe. The paper raises yet another contradiction: as antiretroviral therapy has become more popular, HIV has experienced a resurgence. At the very least, we shouldn’t rest on our antiretrovirals just yet.
But what does that mean?
“You won’t get a hard answer from me on it, simply because there’s not enough science for us to know exactly the state of affairs for men who are gay or have sex with other men,” Kutner wrote me in an email. “Studies have quantified the lessened risk, but I wouldn’t generalize their findings to the lives of gay men. That said, the consensus is that undetectable viral load is a good thing, all evidence on the subject points toward lessened transmission risk, and there may be more we still don’t know but we’re just gonna recommend that low viral load has some beneficial effect on lessening HIV risk even if we can’t exactly quantify it yet among the gays and other [men who have sex with men].”
But the lack of hard facts does not mean that we must abandon reason. It does not mean that it is impossible to make educated decisions based on the scraps of knowledge that we have. Here is how Kutner broke down the choice faced by Grindr users on the poz/neg divide:
[Say] one profile says nothing about status, another says he’s negative, another says he’s positive and undetectable, etc. As a thought experiment, let’s imagine that what people say online about themselves is always true – which is a stretch to begin with, but let’s go with it for now. The guy whose viral load is undetectable might be the better choice for reducing the chance of transmission; he knows his status, he takes his meds, he has no measurable HIV in his blood. The other guys don’t say their status or they say they’re negative. The unknown status guy could have HIV but not want to say anything about it…Then there’s the negative guy. He’s either truly negative or he just thinks he’s negative; if it’s the latter, then in all likelihood his viral load is more of a transmission risk than the guy who knows his status and has undetectable viral load. Based on counseling NYC men testing for HIV, plenty of “negative” guys fuck without a condom and naively think they and the guy they just fucked is negative – so what they say about being negative is true, but it isn’t accurate since a guy’s HIV status is subject to change before he knows it has changed.
So of those three choices, the guy who’s willing to be out about his status might seem like the easier one to trust. Of course, it’s so much more complicated – who wants to think about HIV during sex when it’s hard enough to contemplate it after sex?
So, right. No firm answers to be had here, except that abstinence is the only way to stay truly safe. And abstinence, as we know, is impossible. How terrifying.
Miguel and Me, Redux
“This always happens: someone will feel bad and then they’ll see me out and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, you’re so fucking hot…’”
Miguel is 32 and was 21 when he was diagnosed. A former drug abuser, he told me that when he found out he had HIV, it barely fazed him. It wasn’t until he got clean that he realized the true value of himself – now he says he’s healthier than he’s ever been. He has an insanely cut-up torso to prove it.
Though he told me he isn’t angry, his words suggest otherwise. He gets visibly riled when we discuss HIV-related ignorance within the gay community.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I’ve ever been with anyone with HIV.’” he said. “Are you fucking kidding me? Do you live under a rock? ‘Well no one’s ever told me.’ That’s exactly it, and you never bothered to ask. So now you’re an idiot. And then they get mad and it’s like why are you getting mad at me? You’re the dumbass who’s probably going to get HIV because of your mindlessness.”
He isn’t exaggerating. Probably. Using CDC figures, I’ve calculated that 1 in 14 men who sleep with men in America has HIV. I’ve heard estimates as high as 1 in 5 in New York. The stats get fuzzy when you take into account how many guys have it but don’t know it (though there are stats for that percentage, too). In general, the hard facts are elusive. HIV is everywhere or not so much and maybe you’ll get it from someone who is undetectable or maybe you won’t and then maybe you’ll be fine after taking some meds. Maybe.
Where having HIV is concerned, you’re damned to a life of uncertainty and anxiety if you don’t, condemned to one of shoddy treatment from your gay brothers if you do. Even if I never contract HIV, it will remain a concern of mine for life. I have contracted an issue.
Miguel informs everyone of his status up front, and told me that those who don’t “are the people who create this stigma with us.” He said he has a “pretty damn active sex life,” hooking up with “a couple of guys a week.”
But “hooking up” means different things to different people. “I mainly just do what happened earlier. That’s about it,” he added.
After Miguel and I set up our brunch date earlier that day via text, he casually mentioned that he was jacking off. I thought that was hot. It inspired me to do the same and I told him. He sent me shots of his hard cock and asked me to, as well. I explained to him why I never do that (I write in public)…and then I caved. Part of it was out of obligation – I had already turned him down enough – but the bigger part of it was that it was sexually exciting, a slight risk (what if the pics leak?) to make a hot situation hotter. He sent me his ass pic as well, and we said nasty things to each other. “Shoot ur load,” he eventually directed me. “I’m going to in a bit,” I said back. He sent me video of himself ejaculating and then said, “Show me.” And so I did.
At brunch we talked about how hot that was, and how lovely our conversation was going. “I feel like this is much more intimate than a hookup,” I told him, verbalizing what I had felt back when Giovanni sat on my couch and spilled his story to me. “Me too. I would much rather do this,” said Miguel.
After we wrapped up our interview and brunch, Miguel and I stepped onto the bright Chelsea sidewalk outside of our restaurant and kissed passionately. We walked down the subway together, our arms spilling all over each other and I felt proud in the presence of this beauty and flattered that Miguel shared his knowledge and story with me.
* Except for Miguel and Bryan Kutner, the names that appear in this piece are pseudonyms.
After a physical before the 1991–92 NBA season, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. In a press conference held in November, 1991 he made a public announcement that he would retire immediately and stated that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not have HIV, and that he would dedicate his life to “battle this deadly disease”. He went on to play on the 1992 gold medal Olympic Team and said he considered a comeback, but was disheartened when other players said they were scared they would contract the virus from his blood.
At the time, November 1991, his decision to announce his diagnosis to the world was considered exceptionally brave, since HIV/AIDS was heavily stigmatised to a greater degree than today. Magic’s campaigns were pivotal in demonstrating to the world that the risk of infection was not limited to a specific creed of people. Magic stated that his aim was to “help educate all people about what HIV is about” and teach others not to “discriminate against people who have HIV and AIDS” and when Johnson announced he had the virus, people started to realise the disease could – and was – affecting anyone.
The announcement became a major news story in the United States, and in 2004 was named as ESPN’s seventh most memorable moment of the past 25 years. Many articles praise him as a hero, and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush said, “For me, Magic is a hero, a hero for anyone who loves sports.
After announcing his HIV status he created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat HIV and later, diversified the foundation to include other charitable goals. In 1992, he joined the National Commission on AIDS, but left after eight months, saying that the commission was not doing enough to combat the disease. He was also the main speaker for the United Nations (UN) World AIDS Day Conference in 1999 and has served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
Twenty years on and the former NBA great still devotes much time and effort to raise money for research and is an inspiration to many. He remains a living face for HIV education and activism and for many, is an inspiration to HIV positive individuals and their friends and families.
He said he never considered not coming forward with the details of his diagnosis, because he wanted to be a face to help de-stigmatise the virus and raise awareness for the less famous or privileged victims dying daily.
Johnson is still reportedly in good health, which he credits with Anti-HIV medicine, exercise, and a great support system.
He travels nationwide giving motivational speeches and works with public officials from the UN and international AIDS foundations to fight for policy, awareness and clinics that benefit victims worldwide. Though he says he is sometimes reminiscent of his basketball days, he is most proud of his accomplishments off the court to help fight the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Today, Twenty years after contracting a disease that was supposed to kill him, Magic Johnson is killing the disease by using his celebrity to raise millions for HIV/AIDS research.
“The Announcment” is a documentary, directed by Nelson George and narrated by Magic Johnson and is Magic’s second film on HIV (The award-winning “Life Support” for HBO in 2007, starring Queen Latifah is the first). He said, “For me, “The Announcement” is not just a look back at a fraught, unforgettable moment in U.S. history, but a vehicle for re-introducing the subject of HIV/AIDS to an audience that may not know that [people] are still getting infected and, yes, still dying from this big disease with a little name.
Here are two positive developments that move forward the debate about sex, risk, undetectable viral load and the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure.
2011 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Much has been achieved in those three decades, most notably advances in treatment that have changed the face of HIV for those who have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication from a terminal illness to a chronic yet manageable disease.
But of late there’s been other good news to celebrate. Just last month, for example, researchers from the University of Western Ontario announced that clinical trials are about to begin on a new HIV vaccine they’ve developed. And it does seem that, increasingly, more and more experts are becoming convinced that +ve individuals, appropriately treated with an undetectable viral load are much less likely to pass on the virus than people not on treatment. However, as PositiveLite editor Bob Leahy recently pointed out by how much and in what circumstances is still subject to debate.
PEP is an emergency measure aimed at preventing HIV infection after the possible exposure of an HIV negative person to the virus. The new UK guidelines are notable for no longer recommending that PEP be provided in a number of situations where the “source partner” is known to be HIV+ and to have an undetectable viral load. These situations include unprotected vaginal intercourse, unprotected insertive anal intercourse and oral sex. But PEP is still recommended following unprotected receptive anal intercourse.
The guidelines are also notable for not recommending PEP in any situation in which the source partner is thought not to belong to a social group in which HIV prevalence is high, such as gay men or people from high-prevalence countries (such as those in sub-Saharan Africa). The guidelines also clarify that, due to the very low risk of infection, PEP is unnecessary following human bites or contact with a discarded needle.
(Unlike the UK and many other countries in the developed world, Canada has no national guidelines for the use of PEP for non-workplace exposure – such as unprotected sex, a condom breaking during sex, needle sharing or sexual assault - although some provincial guidelines exist. As a result, PEP for non-workplace exposure is rarely promoted in Canada. On the other hand, PEP after workplace exposures – for example a health care worker who accidentally suffers a needle-stick injury – remains the “standard of care” and is widely used in this country.)
Yet, despite the growing body of evidence that having an undetectable viral load significantly reduces the likelihood of an infected person passing on the virus to an uninfected sexual partner, Canada has witnessed an escalation in the number of people prosecuted for allegedly exposing partners to HIV even if they had an undetectable viral load and/or were using protection such as condoms or engaging in a low risk activity such as oral sex. Ontario is home to the majority of HIV-related prosecutions in Canada and is also one of the leading jurisdictions in the world when it comes to such prosecutions.
Part of the problem is that the law around HIV disclosure has never been legally defined. Rather, it comes from a 1998 decision of the Supreme Court that HIV+ people have a legal duty to tell a sex partner that they have HIV before they have sex if there’s a “significant risk” that they’ll pass on the virus to that person. This lack of clarity on what constitutes significant risk has meant that the police, Crown attorneys and lower courts have been inconsistent in how they interpret what sex acts, and under what circumstances, pose a significant risk of HIV transmission.
In last month’s Canadian Medical Association Journal, Julio Montaner, one of Canada’s and the world’s leading HIV medical doctors, along with colleagues from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS called for the end of prosecutions for allegedly exposing sexual partners to the virus. “To put the burden on the person infected with HIV that they have to disclose when they may be on treatment or using a condom, or doing both, is really not appropriate,” Montaner told The Vancouver Sun. “Let me be clear, I think that people who behave irresponsibly, they need to be judged accordingly and there are laws to address those issues…but to have a policy that selectively targets HIV is discriminatory and discourages people from seeking out testing and treatment.”
All this will be coming under intense scrutiny next month, when the Supreme Court of Canada is to hear two appeals involving HIV non-disclosure. In both cases, one from Manitoba, the other from Québec, the accused are HIV+ and had consentual sex with their partners without disclosing their HIV status although they used condoms or were on ARV medication that kept the risk of transmission very low. In each case, the accused were acquitted by the provincial Courts of Appeal. However, prosecutors in both cases applied for an appeal before the Supreme Court.
So it was of particular concern that in September 2011, Ontario’s Attorney General indicated his government’s intention to file an application to intervene in the Supreme Court hearing. The government’s intent was to call on the Court to rule that people living with HIV must disclose their status before any sexual activity whatsoever – even in the case where there’s a negligible, effectively zero, risk of HIV transmission – and that not disclosing should be prosecuted as an aggravated sexual assault, which is one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code.
It was especially troubling that the Ontario Attorney General‘s office took this position at the same time that it was engaged in ongoing discussions regarding the development of prosecutorial guidelines for allegations of HIV non-disclosure.
So it was good news to learn that, just before Christmas 2011, Ontario quietly withdrew its application to intervene before the Supreme Court. The government hasn’t released its reasons for this about-face, although it must be said that the governing Liberal party has just recently been returned to power following a provincial election where they gained a plurality of seats in the provincial parliament. The premier also appointed a new Attorney General who may have been instrumental in deciding against his predecessor’s decision to intervene.
However, the appeal before the Supreme Court will still be going ahead – it starts on February 8, 2012 – at which time the Court will be asked to define “significant risk”. Hopefully, in reaching a decision on the two cases before it, the bench will take into account current medical and scientific research about the risk of transmission and make a decision that’s compatible with scientific, medical, public health and community efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and to provide care, treatment and support for people living with HIV.
You can listen to an excellent debate about the current law – and recommended changes to it – in a podcast of the CBC Radio current affairs program The Current that was broadcast on December 21, 2011. In it Anna Maria Tremonti talks with Tim McCaskell, a long-time AIDS activist and person living with HIV, and Carissima Mathen, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
We are pleased publish our local advert to promote HIV testing, in our office location in Leicester Town Centre, on Regent Road.
This advert speaks with 15 languages internationally. This advert cost marginally and considerably less than the Governments 1987 “Tombstone” Advert.
Our message is clear, it is better to know your own HIV status and you can get a HIV test at LASS, and have the result within a minute!
Our team of volunteers have specialist training to provide a free and confidential test, we also have a fantastic support team to provide after-care and further information if required. We also have established network links so we can refer to more specialist agencies all around Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland so you can be sure to get expert advice for your needs.
We also have a support group called LhivE, a group of people from Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland who are living with HIV. Living with HIV brings a whole set of its own issues and LhivE demonstrate that people living with HIV can lead fulfilling and safe lives with choices.
We hope you like our new advert and hope that you’ll feel comfortable to contact us if you would like a free and confidential test.
The city of Leicester has the fastest-rising HIV rate in the east Midlands and the sixth-highest in the country.
Meanwhile, in 2009/10, national research demonstrated that community testing was effective in delivering tests to those at risk, preventing late diagnosis and thereby reducing onward transmission. As there was no such community testing service in Leicester, we set about creating one!
It is the training of our volunteers which makes the project unique as a method of engaging with specific African communities which are considered to have a high need. As well as delivering courses to train volunteers to carry out tests among Zimbabwean and Congolese community groups, we also provide a safe and confidential place for people to receive a test.
Our volunteers have created a 50-second advert promoting the value of knowing your HIV status in 15 languages.
We have delivered more than 400 tests, more than half of which are to the BME communities in the region. While the first phase of the project involved delivering tests only from our building, funding has ensured we can use our van to take testing to more venues across Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland.
We were delighted to be highly commended by the Charity Awards, the UK charity sector’s most prestigious awards scheme earlier this year, after being short-listed in the Healthcare & Medical Research category. This means we have been judged to be of the best 32 Charities in the whole country. Our sincere thanks go to all our service users, volunteers, staff and people in partner organisations who are the real reason we have achieved such a magnificent accolade. Community based HIV testing and our advertisement for this service were the basis of for our application.
WIDESPREAD TESTING IS URGENTLY NEEDED – Health Protection Agency.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) predicts that unless more focus is given to HIV prevention and routine testing, more people could become infected.
It is 30 years since the first case of HIV was formally diagnosed, and since then there have been several major breakthroughs in medical treatment resulting in longer life expectancy for those infected by the virus.
But some medical experts now believe because of the success of anti viral drugs in prolonging the lives of carriers, it has led to complacency.
HPA figures show that in the last three decades 115,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK alone, with 27,000 people having gone on to develop full-blown Aids – and 20,000 of those having since died.
We need a complete and wholesome approach to treating HIV and most importantly help prevent its spread – Dr Rupert Whitaker, a long-standing HIV survivor
But what is worrying the medical profession and campaign pressure groups is that, despite all the medical advances over the last three decades, the number of HIV cases in the UK is expected to rise next year to 100,000 and some of those cases will be people who do not yet realise they have been infected by the virus.
Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, believes widespread testing is urgently needed to help get new cases diagnosed.
“It is so crucial when treating someone who is HIV positive as quickly as possible. That way their lives can be prolonged considerably,” she said.
“Provided someone is tested within the early stages of infection, so they have only had HIV for a short time, and they receive effective medication followed up by effective therapy, then their life expectancy is very good.
“In fact we can safely say HIV is no longer a life threatening illness but a chronic life long condition which if treated correctly can mean people can live to their normal life expectancy.”
LASS are registered for JustTextGiving which enables supporters to make donations of up to £10 by text message.
It’s easy to donate to LASS, and it takes no time at all, simply text: “LASS25 £10″ to 70070. (You can change the amount of your donation to: £1, £2, £3, £4 or £5 if you prefer) and you’ll receive a text message receipt, and the chance to add Gift Aid by text or in web form. More details are available from this link.
From left to right: Director of Social Transformation Programmes Division, Dr Sylvia Anie, Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith, Vanuatu Justice Minister Ralph Reganvanu and Dr Marilyn Waring.
“When your labour is not available for sale, what does social protection mean to your unpaid caring work and the lives of all in your household”
The traditional Pacific care system in Papua New Guinea has broken down due to the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, leaving the sick and their carers isolated and vulnerable.
A two-day Commonwealth roundtable on ‘Sustaining gender-responsive social protection and economic resilience’ learned that centuries old communal care in the Pacific has been unable to overcome the stigma and discrimination, with orphans in Papua New Guinea more likely to be rejected by extended families if they are sick with HIV and AIDS.
The roundtable from 3 to 4 October is being held at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters in London and attended by academics, experts and officials from around the Commonwealth, including Vanuatu’s Justice Minister Ralph Reganvanu. It is reviewing the outcome of research on unpaid carers in the household looking after those with HIV and AIDS in Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.
The research has been published in a new book ‘Who Cares: the Economics of Dignity’, commissioned by the Secretariat and based on research by Dr Marilyn Waring, Dr Anit Mukherjee, the late Dr Robert Carr, and Dr Meena Shivdas.
The book highlights that unpaid carers are living in ‘servitude’, with little choice or state support to care for family members sick with HIV and AIDS.
Dr Waring, a feminist economist and public policy expert specialising in the economics of unpaid work, told the roundtable on 3 October that governments need to take urgent action on social protection to guard the rights of unpaid carers.
But first she said the definition of social protection, which relates to policies and programmes designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability, must be expanded to include unpaid carers.
She said: “Current discourses on social protection assume that a person is work-ready or available to access public works programmes. But when your labour is not available for sale, what does social protection mean to assist your unpaid caring work and the lives of all in your household.
“To take care of a terminally ill person is to descend into poverty, in anybody’s language,” she said.
Naren Prasad of the International Labour Organization said economic statistics from the past 50 years has shown the benefits of social protection policies.
“Countries that have seen social protection as a necessity and have spent more money on social protection have developed much better, such as the Nordic countries and Japan,” said Mr Prasad.
The social protection programmes discussed by the roundtable include a school feeding programme in Botswana, cash for work, cash transfers, public works programmes, and free prescription drugs for pregnant women with HIV and AIDS. Major issues were land and inheritance, recognition of children’s capacity to make life decisions, and community defined and directed social protection programmes.
The outcome of the roundtable will contribute to the development of a social protection framework for the Secretariat.
“The Secretariat will continue to advocate for social protection, mindful that for our small states, affordability and sustaining outreach to vulnerable populations are important factors for consideration in instituting social protection measures,” said Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith.
The David Kato Vision & Voice Award will be presented annually, on Human Rights Day (10th December), to an individual who demonstrates courage and outstanding leadership in advocating for the sexual rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, particuarly in enviroments where these uinduvidual face continued rejection, marginalization, isolation and persecution.
The award will be accompanied by a one time grant of US$10,000.
David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda was one of Uganda’s most prominent gay rights activists until January, when he was murdered in his home weeks after winning a court victory over a tabloid that called for homosexuals to be killed.
Along with other Ugandan gay activists, Kato had reported increased harassment, when a high court judge granted a permanent injunction against the Rolling Stone tabloid newspaper, preventing it from identifying homosexuals in its pages.
Late last year, Kato had been pictured on the front page of an issue carrying the headline “Hang Them”. He was one of the three complainants in the court case.
“Since the ruling, David said people had been harassing him, and warning they would ‘deal with him,’” Julian Pepe Onziema, a close friend and fellow gay rights activist, said.
“We were due to meet to discuss security arrangements, but he said he did not have money to get to town. A few hours after we spoke, his phone was off.”
Human Rights Watch said it was too early to speculate why Kato had been killed, but added that there were serious concerns about the level of protection of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Kampala.
Maria Burnett, the Uganda researcher for Human Rights Watch, urged a “real and substantive investigation” into the murder.
News of Kato’s murder came after a lesbian due to be deported from Britain to Uganda said she feared she would be killed if she was returned.
Brenda Namigadde, 29 – who fled Uganda in 2003 after being threatened over her relationship with her Canadian partner – is being held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
She told the Guardian Newspaper: “I’ll be tortured or killed if I’m sent back to Uganda. They’ve put people like me to death there. Most of my friends in Uganda have disappeared.”
Her initial asylum claim was rejected, in part on the basis that there was not sufficient evidence that she is a lesbian.
Ugandan society is, in general, homophobic – but in recent years the anti-gay feeling has been stoked by religious leaders, a group of US evangelicals and politicians.
In 2009, MP David Bahati introduced the anti-homosexuality bill, which calls for gay people to be imprisoned for life. Repeat offenders would face the death penalty, while Ugandans would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face police action themselves.
Widely condemned internationally, the bill remains before parliament. Kato, human rights activist, was murdered in his home in Kampala, Uganda on 26 January 2011.
In recognition of his life and courage, and the continued struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals around the world, partners committed to eliminating violence, stigma and discrimination have established the David Kato Vision & Voice Award.
Inspired by his work, the award recognizes the leadership of individuals who strive to uphold the numerous dimensions of sexual rights for LGBTI people. Sexual rights are an evolving set of entitlements related to sexuality that contribute to the freedom, equality and dignity of all people, and are an important aspect of human rights. The realization of these rights is also an integral element to a meaningful HIV response among these marginalized groups.
Why is this important?
The freedom to enjoy and express our sexuality is an integral facet of life, happiness and well-being. Yet, over 70 countries continue to criminalize same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults, adding a complex dimension to realizing the sexual rights of individuals.
Stigma, discrimination and violence towards LGBTI people, and repressive laws that criminalize same sex consensual acts, undermine access to sexual health and HIV-related services and cause many to hide their same-sex relationships. Even where this is not illegal, real or perceived homophobia among health workers can make individuals reluctant to access services.
HIV positive patients still have to deal with the stigma associated with the disease.
This is the view of Catherine Murphy, head of parliamentary and public affairs at the Terrence Higgins Trust. Ms Murphy believes that the stigma is particularly acute in the healthcare sector.
She said an assortment of research has been conducted and results show HIV patients still experience discrimination by healthcare workers.
“We do know that still happens quite regularly and that people have poor experiences in the NHS, in primary care,” Ms Murphy commented.
She cited the example of dentists telling HIV sufferers that their appointment needs to be the final one of the day so equipment can be sterilised, as well as some dentists rejecting them altogether. According to Ms Murphy, this is a very outdated attitude and people should expect healthcare professionals to know better.
The Terrence Higgins Trust estimated 86,500 people who had HIV were living in the UK in 2009, a 4.2 per cent rise on the previous year.