“By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy – indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction”
– William Osler
I think William got it right. Now I know he was probably not talking in specific about any topic, but I think his words directly get to my next few points. HIV in essence is completely preventable. Every infection, every transmission completely avertable. What is more insidious then the virus is the stigma we have in society. Stigma feeds the myths and actions of folks that continue to isolate and hurt folks and ultimately continue the spread of HIV. The more fear we have of talking about HIV the more fear we create in others not getting tested or learning about keeping themselves HIV-.
Take for example all the MYTHS that we hear about how someone gets HIV.
- Dirty toilets can give you HIV
- Sharing a drinking glass can give you HIV
- Kissing, getting spit on, sharing gum or candy can give you HIV
- Holding hands can give you HIV
- Sitting in the same room with someone who has HIV for a prolonged period of time will give you HIV
The truth is NONE of these things are true, and this is only a small amount of the untrue things I have heard people say. I think the misconceptions we have about transmission come from our fear of actually talking about sex and STDs. Similarly We tend to demoralize whole segments of our population by assuming HIV+ folks are all “slutty” or engage in “dirty” behaviors. This prejudice only helps to perpetuate this idea that getting HIV is someone’s fault. We create such a large fear of someone who is HIV positive when in all reality, folks with HIV are forced to take better care of themselves then the rest of us. I for instance haven’t seen a doctor in years and I can’t remember the last time I took even a vitamin in the morning. Furthermore society tends to consider folks with HIV as “dirty”. I’ve heard many folks (youth and adults) say things like “I don’t have HIV, I’m clean” or “I don’t need a [HIV] test I don’t sleep around” or even “I shower before sex and would never sleep with someone dirty.”
We may not understand the impact of our words, but it is clear that these words push folks away and directly affect folks not show up to get tested or use condoms. In this day and age it is horrible to still hear someone say “people with HIV walk around with syringes of their blood just waiting to stab me to infect me” or “I’m afraid that I’ll wake up to find (I gave you HIV) written on my bathroom mirror in lipstick”
By really ending this stigma we have towards each other, we can make HIV a part of health and not about being “slutty” or “dirty.” I ask everyone reading this to change how we talk about HIV and make testing a normal part of life. It should be routine like dental checkups or physicals.
Let’s end the stigma, the shame, the guilt, the discrimination and create a HIV positive society (no pun intended). Let’s take the cure we already have and end all new HIV infections.
Do you agree? How else can we cure HIV without an actual vaccine?