Over the weekend the media has been in a spin about a ‘breakthrough’ to finding a cure for HIV. The fact is we’re still a long way off and there’s still many trials and a lot of research needed before any form of a cure becomes a reality, let alone the logistics of distributing it and at what cost.
Regardless of the facts many people with HIV will have felt jubilation at this news and it wasn’t long for the community to start sharing the story with each other, and some even announced that they wanted to be part of the trials (the trial actually specified enrolment on newly diagnosed). Whilst it’s fantastic to see willingness to perform selfless acts in the effort to end HIV for good we need to be realistic. And we need to be concerned that still so many people want to ‘be cured’ because they’re still feeling ashamed or guilty rather than because of health concerns.
Of course there are many people with HIV who are living with the consequences of decades with the virus, the impact of the early toxic drugs, as well as life’s general wear and tear and ageing with HIV. There are some with health complications and comorbidities who would love an easier life, and one (or more) less pills to take if they no longer had to worry about HIV. But we need to be sensible – even when a cure is found it’s not going to have the restorative properties of the ‘Fountain of Youth’ or eliminate our other conditions.
Finding a cure is about finding acceptance. Too many people with HIV still have low self-esteem, are lacking self-worth and believe they should feel guilty about their status. Society still conditions us to slut shame people who have ‘a lot’ of sex, or to judge people who find themselves dependent on drugs or alcohol. We still have little time for people suffering poor mental health who seek companionship through numerous causal relationships. In 2016 we are still labelling different behaviours ‘lifestyles’ – as though people should be able to change how they act as easily as they change their outfit before going on a night out.
The wish to believe that a cure is within our grasp is to desire an easier life, free from the stigma that the HIV community still face. Whilst I think acceptance of the virus is increasing there are too many uneducated people making inaccurate judgements and statements about those of us living with the virus. And whilst I think we now live in a society that would largely frown on someone taunting someone with HIV in the street you only have to spend five minutes reading the comments on any Daily Mail article about HIV to see that stigma and ignorance about HIV if rife and flourishing online, where trolls remain as hidden and faceless cowards to those they attack.
We shouldn’t be waiting to get to the bottom of a bottle of a miracle cure drug to be accepted. We can live well with HIV, we can have relationships with people without fear of transmission once we are undetectable, and couples can choose to have children if they wish. Experiencing other problems and health concerns can make us stronger and more determined to live. We, those of us living with HIV know this, it’s just a shame that more than 30 years since the virus took hold too many others don’t.