The future of HIV remains hopeful
By Jeff Berry
These are uncertain times we live in. When daily messages of hopelessness and despair fill your newsfeed, there may be a temptation to shut down and tune out, or to return to old, self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope.
If you just tested positive, you might be thinking it’s the last straw. But I need you need to know…you will be OK. You’re going to be OK.
If you’re a long-term survivor of HIV, you’ve come a long way, baby. Don’t give up now. We’ve come too far to be defeated this easily.
Lately, I’ve been reading up on something called post-traumatic growth. Research shows that many people who face trauma, adversity, or other life challenges actually report positive benefits, becoming stronger and having a more meaningful life in the wake of tragedy or a life-altering experience. We’ve seen this played out time and time again in HIV, where people turn their life around, and find meaning in their lives by helping others.
There are numerous instances of life after testing positive that are uplifting and inspiring. Take Magic Johnson, for example. He used his diagnosis to raise awareness about HIV, how it’s transmitted (and more importantly how it’s not transmitted), while providing hope to many of us living with HIV that we can still live a full, happy and healthy life. AIDS activist the Rev. Rae Lewis-Thornton is another inspirational figure, someone who has been living with AIDS since the 1980s, yet uses her remarkable journey and life story to help inform others, especially youth, about HIV and AIDS.
HIV stigma still remains a stubborn issue, unfortunately. It’s important to understand the many layers of stigma, if we are ever truly going to put a dent in the alarming number of new infections taking place in many of our disadvantaged and disempowered communities.
So whether you just tested positive, or are a long-timer like me, I encourage you to try to take your adversity and mold it into a strength. Taking control of your life and making healthy choices, helping you to become informed about HIV treatment so that you can advocate for your own health, or the health of someone you care about, can be your first step toward a new, more meaningful life.
The HIV treatment landscape continues to evolve. For those who are newly or recently diagnosed, one pill once a day with few or no side effects is pretty much a given these days. But it wasn’t long ago that we had to take handfuls of pills several times a day, with horrible side effects like diarrhea, bone loss, kidney stones or, worse, lots of restrictions and qualifications on when and how to dose our meds.
When all is said and done, though, the future of HIV treatment looks bright, with more effective and more tolerable medications (no more “me-too” drugs); long- acting injectables being studied for treatment and prevention; two-drug single-tablet regimens; and new co-formulations of existing medications, all on the near horizon. Drugs that attack HIV using different targets and new delivery methods could help those with resistance or who are struggling with adherence, but challenges remain. The availability of generics could alter the landscape even further, with new generic single-tablet regimens coming soon to a pharmacy near you, potentially reducing the costs of these expensive medications.
With recent reports that the overall rate of new infections are actually falling in the U.S., largely due to Treatment as Prevention (TasP, or undetectable equals uninfectious) and the rising use of daily oral PrEP for those who are HIV-negative to remain negative, the future of HIV in this country looks hopeful. Efforts to increase awareness about the benefits of testing and treatment for HIV, with no stigma attached to being aware of your status – along with the movement to rescind laws in certain states that criminalize HIV transmission, coupled with advances in HIV cure research – will keep us on track to one day eliminate HIV once and for all.
Jeff Berry is the editor in chief of Positively Aware magazine, and Director of Publications at Test Positive Aware Network in Chicago. Find him on Twitter @PAEditor. This column is a project of Plus, Positively Aware, POZ, The Body and Q Syndicate, the LGBT wire service. Visit their websites – http://hivplusmag.com, http://positivelyaware.com, http://poz.com and http://thebody.com – for the latest updates on HIV/AIDS.