HIV :: HIV Prevention – our voices are necessary

As an individual living with HIV for 20 years, I have been working to break down the barriers of fear and discrimination for nearly a decade now. I believe there is a serious problem stemming from the lack of media coverage, when it comes to educating people about HIV/AIDS.

How can there be any real understanding about HIV/AIDS and HIV prevention, without the necessary information reported?

HIV/AIDS reported in the news is minimal, at a time when it needs to be at the forefront! Why is this? Money is being spent trying to determine ways to provide HIV prevention but in order to reach everyone; HIV needs to be in the news! Talking about safe sex and the need to use a condom or providing condoms is not working! HIV is a global problem which demands attention yet those of us working tirelessly are unable to get articles or /letters published in newspapers, events covered, or messages conveyed to help educate the public. Who better to address the situation than individuals who are living with HIV, or AIDS?

People need to see others who are infected with HIV, to see they are not afraid to tell others they are infected. Yet, science, medical, pharmaceutical, government and the media has ignored much of what individuals infected have to say, which is a major contribution when it comes to understanding HIV and AIDS. There is an abundance of information which is not being provided by individuals infected, and this can obviously be attributed to the stigma attached to HIV, but, there are those of us who are infected with HIV who are not afraid, who are willing to have our voices heard and willing to do what ever it takes to help create awareness. Many of us know the severity of HIV on a global scale as well as the realities of living infected with HIV. The public needs to understand HIV and let go of the fear, each person taking part in a global prevention strategy.

Unfortunately because of the stigma associated with HIV, still, people are not letting others know they have been infected. Who better to reach these people as well as informing the general public than individuals living with HIV! But we do not see people living with HIV explaining the realities. The time the media gives to HIV/AIDS coverage is that of news covering a new drug or conference or a statistic. More familiar, media coverage of the sick! For many of us, even though illness has been a constant, we have crossed the boundaries of fear and discrimination, in our own lives as well as for the sake of others. Our voice not only needs to be heard but I believe our voices are necessary if the stigma is going to change. We can no longer continue as we have!

People believe HIV infection will never happen to them and many still associate HIV/AIDS with gay people. Yet men, women and children of every race and religious or spiritual belief are being infected with HIV every day, all over the world! Even the Vatican continues to oppose condom use to fight AIDS while HIV infection escalates!
For years, the gay community successfully promoted and practiced safe sex practices, which reduced the number of infections dramatically over a period of ten years. With antiretroviral therapies and fewer deaths associated with these treatments, many gay people have discontinued safe sex practices. HIV infection is not disclosed to partners and anal sex without a condom is increasing at alarming rates. So now HIV infection is on the rise again amongst gay people.

Also, the heterosexual community is not practicing safe sex, which is evident in the statistics of HIV infection amongst heterosexuals worldwide. Seventy five percent of the world population infected with HIV is heterosexual. Fifty percent of all HIV infections are in women. There has been insufficient time or attention given to the dispersal of proper information through the media regarding HIV and AIDS and HIV prevention.

Studies show that anal sex is common throughout the world and in some countries 60% of adults practice anal sex. Women in the United States are reported to be seven times more likely to engage in unprotected anal sex, than men having sex with men. Condom usage is lower for heterosexual anal sex compared to vaginal sex. Many men who have sex with men do not define themselves as gay. More and more women are being infected with HIV through sexual intercourse with their male partner, unaware their partner is bisexual! In heterosexual relationships, infidelity is also responsible for increases in HIV infection among women.
Many people have discontinued safe sex practices and there is no doubt this situation is going to have an enormous effect on all our lives. The United Nations predicts ?AIDS will cut population by 300 million; 300 million fewer people in the world by the year 2050 from the impact of AIDS.?

People think because we have antiretroviral therapies there is no need to practice safe sex or worry. There is no guarantee these medications will work on everyone! An infected individual may be resistant to all the drugs taken by the person who transmitted the disease. One out of every 10 Europeans newly infected with HIV has a drug-resistant strain of the virus according to a study released at the 2003 International AIDS Society?s 2nd Conference, on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment, held in Paris. Multiple sex partners mean multiple infections can occur with the likelihood of infection with more than one HIV strain. This places an individual in greater danger of illness and or death as well as any person they infect. Some strains of HIV have been shown to cause illness and death rapidly regardless of immune status. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated 170 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C. Being infected with HIV may also include being infected with Hepatitis C along with other sexually transmitted diseases such as; syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and hepatitis A, B, and/or C.

There is the perception that if you are infected, HIV is manageable. Managing HIV/AIDS can become a full time job! It involves management of your health through doctors? appointments, hospital visits for blood work and appointments at hospital pharmacies to pick up your necessary HIV/AIDS medications. You must manage the side effects of the drugs and drug resistance. There are the demands of managing to overcome each opportunistic infection. All of these are essential to manage to stay alive!

HIV infection does not occur without an opportunity!

HIV can be stopped, but without more public awareness of the risks involved, safe sex practices and the realities of people living with HIV, the numbers of infections will continue to grow and more lives devastated! This awareness cannot be provided by AIDS organizations alone! Government and the media need to play a more active role in HIV prevention. The truth about HIV infection needs to be told!

Health authorities predict by the year 2010, there will be 45 million new infections and 70 million people will die of AIDS by 2020.

UNAIDS estimates as many as two thirds, of the 45 million new HIV infections expected by 2010 could be prevented if prevention programs were immediately expanded.

Bradford McIntyre, HIV+ 20 years
Vancouver, Canada

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