After the AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, I feel disillusioned about living with HIV in 2016.
The more recent declarations about the 'end of AIDS as a public health issue' in Australia were welcome for many but cold comfort for those of us who are already HIV-Positive.
It's undoubtedly more pleasant to live with HIV in this country now than it was in years gone by. But I've lived with HIV for 16 years and there are many aspects to the current debate that frustrate me -– such as the spotlight on PREP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and the 'Ending HIV' mantra of AIDS organisations.
If pharmaceutical companies can churn out a never-ending supply of antiviral medicines, including those that constitute PREP, surely they can extend themselves to find a cure.
As an HIV-Positive person I certainly don't feel grateful to drug companies -– I feel exploited by them. AIDS organisations are far too preoccupied with enabling their agenda than supporting people living with HIV. We may as well be invisible now they're swept up in PREP hysteria. What about lobbying drug companies for a cure? I doubt it's even up for discussion.
Contrary to media reports about 'The End of AIDS' in Australia, many of us are living with HIV and the impact of AIDS-related conditions such as aggressive cancers, blindness and cognitive impairment. We've endured the virus for years and we're traumatised physically and emotionally. We need a real solution to this epidemic -- not more pills and hollow slogans.
While HIV treatments are better than ever, they're still hard to swallow at times. I've tried many in the 16 years I've had the virus and there's no such thing as a side-effect free medicine. I've had everything from near-kidney failure to extreme skin conditions.
The new class of drugs (Integrase Inhibitors) that spurred the 'Ending HIV' mantra were the hardest to tolerate, with disabling muscle and joint pain. All these medications put pressure on the liver and digestive system. I regularly get to the point where I can't stomach more pills. After 16 years I'm tired of pumping chemicals into my body that leave me feeling toxic and drained.
I know I'm not the only one.
Right now I feel trapped, at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies who just want to line their pockets with the infinite profits of antiviral medicines and now PREP. I feel let down by an HIV sector that does not represent our interests, and is blinded by a pharmaceutical agenda. And I feel discouraged by a community of gay men who want to swallow these drugs en masse in the rush to have raw sex. Fair enough, when it's sold as 'the best thing since sliced bread' by a misguided HIV sector.
Instead of bothering with a cure, Big Pharma has created the gay men's morning-after pill (PEP) and now the gay men's contraceptive pill (PREP). They're fast on track to have every gay man taking some kind of pill regardless of their HIV status –- what a deplorable situation that is.
Of course I understand the appeal of PREP -– it does have its place. But surely finding a cure is the main objective? After 16 years I can assure you that living with HIV is not easy -– it takes hard work and courage. There's plenty of days spent battling emotions, prejudice and challenging health. To compound this, we're made to feel like whingers if we say we're tired of living with HIV and taking pills every day. A typical response from those in the HIV sector is 'get over it -– at least you've got medication'.
Well I'm not grateful to pharmaceutical companies for dragging this epidemic on and on. Nor am I thankful to the AIDS organisations that support them. Their current agenda is insulting to people living with HIV. PREP won't end HIV. Only a cure will.