Yesterday I experienced World AIDS Day as an ‘out’ positive person for the first time. Twitter is an amazing avenue for HIV activism and I was up early and used the time to tweet away about HIV, there was plenty of hashtag usage and retweeting as well. It’s great to see the amount of public support, lots of people adding Twibbons to their profile pictures and lots of my friends changed their Facebook photos to the red ribbon as well. Out and about in Manchester I was thrilled to see a giant ribbon fixed to the town hall and plenty of people wearing red ribbons. Unfortunately people like me living with HIV, or those around the world suffering from the advanced stages don’t just deal with the challenges and pressures of the virus on December 1st. The battle every year is to maintain interest in the public eye and make sure the voices of those living with HIV are heard until this time next year.
I’m so glad that this year I feel I can be a part of the movement, I feel like I have started a new chapter in my life with HIV during the past month. Over the next few weeks and months hopefully I can raise even more awareness and keep up the momentum in my personal mission to reduce stigma, fear and intolerance. I’ve had a busy week in the run up to World AIDS Day and it’s been an exciting time for me personally to face new experiences, hopefully I’ve spread the messages of the importance of testing as part of National HIV Testing Week. Even if I have only managed to have reached a handful of people then it will have all been worthwhile.
There is a long way to go and there has been a lot of talk about ‘the end being in sight’ but we can’t let media and political spin distract us from our focus: nor can we pretend that we can rely on science and the pharmaceutical industry to provide all the answers. People living with HIV need to debate amongst themselves the best way to continue the promotion of our campaigns and highlight the troubles AND the ease of living with the virus.
One debate that was being discussed across various Twitter trends and Facebook statuses yesterday was the ‘AIDS’ in World AIDS Day. I’d like to point out that I am not an AIDS denialist. I believe that whilst I wasn’t infected in the 80s and 90s, and didn’t lose anyone or in memory witness the incredibly hard times that people faced, we MUST remember these people. But are we just dealing with semantics when we talk about this issue? I’m not even sure myself. AIDS was a term coined to describe the deaths of people before the HIV virus was really discovered. In fact in the early days it was known as GRID or the Gay Plague, due to the misconception that it only affected gay men living ‘un-virtuous’ lifestyles. It’s no longer common to refer to those suffering the later stages of HIV, those with a CD4 below 200, whose immune system has been compromised or those suffering from other illnesses, infected by various viruses or cancers to be suffering from AIDS. So do we need to drop this term, and campaign for those people living with HIV and fighting the destruction that HIV can have on the body?
I was feeling a little sad last night at the prospect of the current campaigns witnessed this week subsiding, an anti-climax after such a busy time in the HIV calendar but I’ve woken up today feeling refreshed and ready to continue the fight. I know our voices cannot be silenced and we will be heard. As we make advancements in medicine we must make the same inroads to combat social injustice and prejudice. Hopefully this time next year we will be another step closer to achieving these goals and I will know the answers to the many personal questions I have asked myself over the past seven days.