When I was diagnosed with HIV in 2010, the prevailing public health message around the epidemic was "test and treat." That was the initiative to get everyone at risk tested for HIV and then to start those who tested positive on treatment right away -- both for their own health and as a community prevention measure, since it was by then understood that treated HIV likely meant untransmittable HIV.
This, mind you, was two years after "The Swiss Statement," in which top Swiss HIV experts declared that, based on findings from a large study, it was impossible for people on HIV meds whose HIV viral load was undetectable to transmit HIV. It was a defining moment.
A few years after 2010, we were calling this "treatment as prevention" (TasP), which was hailed as the new tool in the prevention toolbox. And then, last year, once I started communicating with Prevention Access Campaign founder Bruce Richman, the online HIV world exploded with the best new name for this breakthrough to date: undetectable = untransmittable or simply U=U. It's a straight-talking game-changer when it comes to HIV prevention, stigma and the empowerment of people living with HIV. (The original slogan, "undetectable = uninfectious," was met with some criticism from folks in the HIV community, as the words "infected" or "infectious" are seen by many as stigmatizing.)
I first heard the U=U message from Bruce Richman in May 2016 when he reached out to me via a private message on Facebook to see if my social platform, RiseUpToHIV, would like to join the campaign as a community partner. This conversation sparked a friendship and collaborative effort that was particularly crucial in the early months of getting the U=U message out over social media.
Sixteen months later, U=U has grown into the biggest campaign yet to let the world know the undeniable truth that is backed by science over stigma: undetectable = untransmittable. This was a message long overdue, and when I heard it, I instantly knew that it would resonate with other people living with HIV, as it did with me.
I also knew that this message needed to get out to the masses. It is a message of empowerment that is based on scientific facts and backed by the world's most prominent scientists and researchers in the HIV field.
Bruce has created a movement and is inspiring hope and empowering lives on a daily basis. Working beside him and so many others involved in this initiative has been the highlight of my HIV advocacy. This message has lit a fire in me, ignited a greater sense of purpose and freed me from the internalized stigma I had about my own "infectiousness."
One of first images I posted with the U=U message last June on the RiseUpToHIV Facebook page was a quote from Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D., who heads the Division of AIDS at the National Institutes of Health, proclaiming that HIV-positive folks on successful treatment present zero risk of transmission.
That post got more than 1,000 shares, confirming for me that people were hungry for the truth to finally be told about us. That was when I decided to commit my RiseUpToHIV platform to sharing this message. Last year, the platform reached more than five million people on Facebook alone.
I'm one of 360 Prevention Access Campaign community partners from 48 countries dedicated to sharing this information. Since 2012, RiseUpToHIV has been known for its No Shame About Being HIV+ social media frames and T-shirts. A few months ago, I called my graphic designer with a concept for a new frame to share the U=U message -- and hence RiseUpToHIV's 2017 summer campaign was born!
In just two weeks, we framed over 250 photos from people around the world, and while some people have been met with doubt after posting their photo, most have been met with intrigue, love and encouragement. There are some U=U detractors. But, backed by some of the greatest advocates around the world, we are quick to call them out and counter with scientific facts.
How to Request a Frame
The easiest way to request a frame is by sending a message to the @RiseUpToHIV Facebook page with a photo you'd like to use and your color choice (red, blue, orange, purple or green). Here's the direct link to send a message to the page.
Or you can email your photo and color choice to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos will be uploaded into a public album on the page, as well as to our Instagram account.
To see photos we have framed to date, click here.
Kevin Maloney is the Founder of RIseUpToHIV, a grassroots volunteer-led non-profit organization based out of his bedroom in Columbus, Ohio. RiseUptoHIV is reducing HIV stigma, inspiring hope and empowering lives via storytelling, photos, videos and news related to HIV.