Victor Claros knows the ugly realities of war. The El Salvador-born immigrant fled his country after being captured and nearly killed by guerrillas when he was 15. But the young man’s spirit never died.
Despite having grown up in a religious and homophobic family, Claros found the strength to come out twice: first as gay to his then-wife, and later telling the world he’s living with HIV. What happened next prompted him to take the first step towards becoming a staunch activist.
Activist Victor Claros
“I felt guilty, I was really afraid and ashamed,” remembers Claros, who was working as an HIV educator at a nonprofit at the time of his diagnosis. “I think, sadly, it took me being diagnosed to realize how much stigma and discrimination people living with HIV face on a daily basis. What made it even harder is the fact that way too often the stigma came from individuals, providers, and workers who were helping people with HIV.”
One of Claros’s a-ha moments came when he overheard providers making negative comments about their own HIV-positive clients, an experience that made him realize he needed to fight harder for the people they were serving. So, he joined ranks with Bruce Richman and the Prevention Access Campaign to further promote undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), a consensus that states when you are HIV-positive, undetectable, and on meds, it is impossible to transmit the virus.
Claros says, “The only way I was going to help others was by becoming vocal and openly start talking about these people I was testing on a daily basis. That’s kind of the thing that pushed me to come out [positive].”
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Bruce Richman, the renowned activist and founder of the Prevention Access Campaign, the organization that launched the undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U) message, is on a return flight from Greece where he joined local advocates in sharing the news that when you’re living with HIV, on meds, and undetectable, it is impossible to transmit the virus to others.
For the last several years, Richman has united activists in efforts to end both the HIV epidemic and the stigma that many people living with HIV face. A growing network of health experts, professionals, teachers, siblings, spouses, parents, and friends have changed perspectives on what a positive diagnosis means. Through hard-hitting research and tenacious activism and lobbying, U=U has become a global consensus, recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other agencies, doctors, and organizations around the world.
But despite the immense impact U=U has already had on the esteem, relationships, and overall wellness of those living with HIV (and the people who love them), the rest of the country’s general perception of HIV is still outdated. This is what drives Richman’s pursuit to change hearts and minds.
“U=U is my calling,” Richman, a lawyer-turned-activist, says. “It grabbed me by the gut and yanked me forward. I’ve never felt such a compulsion and clarity. I knew that undetectable equals untransmittable, but millions of people were suffering because they were not being told and people in positions of great influence to alleviate that suffering were sitting on their hands. I had no choice.”
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Extensive evidence from HIV prevention research studies has firmly established that “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable,” or U=U. This means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load — the amount of virus in their blood — by taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed do not sexually transmit HIV to others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates this strategy is 100% effective against the sexual transmission of HIV.
Now, a new study of nearly 112,000 men who have sex with men in the United States has found increasing acceptance of the U=U message in this population. Overall, 54% of HIV-negative participants and 84% of participants with HIV correctly identified U=U as accurate. The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Study results were published online in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
“U=U has been validated repeatedly by numerous studies as a safe and effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID Director. “The increased understanding and acceptance of U=U is encouraging because HIV treatment as prevention is a foundation of efforts to end the epidemic in the United States and around the world. This public health message has the power to reduce stigma, protect the health of people living with HIV and prevent sexual transmission of HIV to others.”
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According to a CDC report, HIV continues to have a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men. Yet, 15% of men who are infected with HIV don’t know it.
Also, according to CDC research, cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have risen for the fifth consecutive year.
Some STIs (including HIV) can go unnoticed since symptoms can be mistaken for minor health problems like a cold or sore throat. Some may have no symptoms at all. The only way to know if you’re infected is to get tested.
If you send us your zip code, we can help find local testing near you. Most are free. You can also ask us questions about basic sexual health, including PrEP. Send a message to m4mInformation@pitt.edu. We’re here to help.
By Zachary Zane
It shouldn’t be that hard to find a health care professional who’s up-to-date and sensitive to specific needs of the LGBTQ and HIV-positive communities. Yet, for many, it still is.
In some smaller suburbs, it’s nearly impossible to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about issues like PrEP, hormone replacement therapy, anal pap smears, and other queer health care requirements. In fact, most people living with HIV have to specifically see an infectious disease specialist when, in theory, their primary care physician should know how to help them achieve and sustain an undetectable viral load.
These days, HIV is a manageable condition, similar to diabetes. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of HIV-positive and/or queer people to find a doctor adept at treating them. That’s why the #WeNeedAButton campaign is putting the responsibility on doctor-patient matching sites.
I’ve teamed up with DatingPositives.com, a dating site for poz people, and Waxoh.com, its sex-positive digital magazine, to promote the effort. DatingPositives.com embraces those managing all STIs and takes their issues very seriously. Given that the LGBTQ community often overlaps with this community, the partnership was a perfect match — so to speak.
Together, we have a mission to improve our community’s health care experience and minimize stigmatization. Our simple solution? A single button to identify queer-friendly doctors.
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WASHINGTON, DC — HIV treatment that leads to viral suppression for at least 6 months is 100% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, even in the absence of condoms or HIV prevention drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But not all care providers tell their patients that.
A survey in the Midwest showed that 22% of HIV physicians still don’t feel comfortable explaining to patients the science behind what is known in the community as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.
And that number is even higher among the physician assistants, nurse practitioners, advanced practice nurses, and traditional registered nurses who serve people living with HIV, said Emily Petran, MPH, from the Minnesota site of the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center (MATEC) in Minneapolis.
The survey — which was more of a needs assessment than a scientific survey — points to the need for education so that people with HIV have all the information they need to care for themselves and their partners, she said here at the United States Conference on AIDS 2019.