Finally, Some Common Sense About HIV/AIDS

20 April 2010 | 26 Comments

The NY Times has an essay in it today on current attitudes about HIV in the US. Here are a few quotes from it (emphasis mine)…

Most states enacted punitive legislation back in the hysterical old days of AIDS, a period lasting roughly from 1981, when the first reports of the syndrome were published, to 1996, when combination drug “cocktails” proved remarkably effective against H.I.V. Back then, transmitting the disease to an unknowing sexual partner was considered tantamount to murder.

These statutes are still on the books, but the science behind them has changed radically. People do still die of AIDS in the United States — the death rate, after plummeting in the late 1990s, has remained constant at about 16,000 per year. But for a person infected in 2009 to die of AIDS in the future would probably require a substantial amount of bad judgment or bad luck: the medications, if properly prescribed and properly taken, appear almost infallible.

Were it a matter of science alone, all those AIDS statutes could be rescinded tomorrow. But the science was only a small part of the panic that created them. And effective treatment has not altered the rest of that potent emotional brew: the virus still sows terror, uncertainty, shame and endless complications, whether the infection is concealed or revealed.

… And so whose fault is a new H.I.V. infection, really? Is it mine, for giving it to you, or is it yours, for being stupid and cavalier enough to get it?

It’s pretty incredible something so honest and accurate is being published in what’s arguably the most prestigious paper in the US. Mind you it’s just the first step in a very long process of decriminalizing HIV, but it’s good to see the first signs of the discussion.

[That said, there are times when I think transmission of HIV should be considered when sentencing for other crimes. The 35 year old poz guy who infected a kid by having sex with him 55 times between the ages of 12 and 16 is a good example of what I mean. The HIV infection should be considered as a special circumstance when sentencing him on statutory rape. But the HIV transmission itself usually shouldn’t be a crime. And when neg person dodges the bullet and there’s no infection, just unprotected sex, then that should definitely never be a crime, IMO…]

People need to think differently about HIV now. It’s 14 years since ARVs came on the scene. I know some of us went through truly traumatic experiences watching loved ones die of AIDS, but it’s just not like that any more.

And just to reiterate what I’ve said before… Unless you’re just incredibly unlucky, there’s no reason you can’t live a long life with HIV. But to live a long life you need to get tested and take your meds when it’s time to take them. That means you should get tested at least every year. Never let more than 2 years pass without an HIV test. If you’re nervous about getting tested – just relax. Chances are very good you’ll be OK if you test poz – as long as you haven’t waited too long…