Bop Leahy talks to the folks at AIDS Vancouver about their innovative campaign "The New Face of HIV – What It Means to Be Undetectable". It refers to the new realities of living with HIV in the era of highly effective antiretrovirals.
Bob Leahy: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us. We're intrigued by what you are doing at AIDS Vancouver. Explain the name you have chosen for this new campaign "The New Face of HIV" and why now is the time for it.
AIDS Vancouver: The full name of the initiative is "The New Face of HIV – What It Means to Be Undetectable". It refers to the new realities of living with HIV in the era of highly effective antiretrovirals (ARVs), which most of us in Canada -- and everyone who tests positive here in BC -- is fortunate enough to have access to.
The name reflects our sense that while the prognosis for people living with HIV has changed so dramatically over the past 15 or so years, the perception of HIV hasn't caught up. For a lot of people, the term "HIV positive" conjures up a reality that hasn't existed for most HIV positive people in Canada since the '90s.
Because of ARVs, HIV is no longer a death sentence. The 2014 BC Provincial Health Officer's report describes HIV as a chronic, manageable condition with a near normal life expectancy. The European PARTNER study found no cases of HIV transmission by vaginal or anal sex between serodiscordant couples where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load after a total of 44,000 sex acts, which suggests that infectiousness is very low. Most people experience very few side effects from treatment. So living with HIV today is very different from living with HIV even just ten years ago.
As for the timing, this project was initially inspired by the experience of one of our members after he tested positive and discovered this huge disconnect between what his doctor was telling him, what the latest research was saying, and what he was experiencing in his daily life as an HIV positive person. He was encountering all of this stigma and misinformation based on an out-dated understanding of HIV, and he was suffering because of it. And he quickly discovered that he was not alone -- as he met other HIV positive people, he heard similar stories of rejection, isolation, depression ... of people suffering because of stigma that was completely unfounded in current realities.
So from that came this idea that maybe it was time to move away from the term HIV-positive, with all of the historic baggage it entails, and to start thinking of a new identity that better reflects the current realities of living with treated HIV. This new identity is "Undetectable", which is meant to describe someone who is HIV positive but is responding well to antiretroviral treatment and has an undetectable viral load.
This excerpt was cross-posted with the permission of PositiveLite.com. Read the full article here.