In the year of 2020 we are seeing an explosive increase of the awareness pivoting around what a global pandemic entails given the multiple outbreaks of Covid-19 throughout the world. That is to say that its media coverage and/or government response, although uneven and visibly unsuccessful in many so-called developed countries, have been extensive to the point that it is hard to think of anybody who has not somehow grown accustom to what we tend to refer to as the ‘new normal’.
But this is just another episode of so many others in a contemporary world that is clearly overpopulated and constantly challenged by the thread of populism, as the spearhead of post-truth and the climate crisis that a 17-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, has channelled through the Fridays for Future movement. Greta has fought and raised awareness more successfully than any other global leader. Once again, globalization proves to be not just a geopolitical chessboard, where power differential comes into realization by means of exerting economic and military stamina.
Rather, it connects us all through our very essence. In other words, humanity. The one that is imprinted in cooperation, solidarity, empathy and reciprocity. A globalization aware of the fact that climate change and otherization of any sort are to be tackled collectively, in so far as, there is no fence high enough or word kind enough that would contain them. Ultimately, progress is about structural changes, not patching solutions.
And that brings me to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that first appeared in the 1980s and, to date, science has been unable to uproot. Hence this year’s theme suitability: Global solidarity, shared responsibility. In today’s World AIDS Day, there is still a tremendous lack of social knowledge and damaging stigma around it even 40 years after its appearance. Tagging on the aforementioned naturalization of a pandemic, there is scarce social understanding of HIV/AIDS beyond condom use.
For starters, one cannot just assume the terms are used interchangeably, for they both constitute different stages for people affected by the virus. Consequently, language matters and the way knowledge influx is managed as well. In this sense, we have to ask ourselves who is affected, how, and what can we do about it (especially when new generations have a lax approach and condom use has decreased dramatically). We don’t need to go all activists about it, maybe it’s just a matter of deconstructing the stigma and showing some empathy.
Another relevant question we should pose is when and where. That is, in this contemporary society we all have been raised hearing about little but conspicuous advancements in fighting the virus, major events and multiple personalities supporting and personifying the cause (e.g. Freddie Mercury), or ubiquitous organizations such as amFAR (created by US American scientists along with Dame Elizabeth Taylor). And yet, we largely think of HIV/AIDS as if it is something that would just occur to other people.
It is a serious medical condition not exclusive from developing countries or the LGBTQ+ community just to name a few. Even though there is an unacceptable number of deaths throughout the world, there are some major advancements. Therefore, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are preventive and reactive treatments accounting for over 90% effectivity.
Additionally, current HIV/AIDS life-long treatments can significantly suppress the viral load to achieve an undetectable status. This literally means that the virus cannot be passed on under any circumstances. For obvious reasons, it has a major positive impact on quality of life and the stigma associated, empowering people and allowing them to safeguard their self-esteem.
Ultimately, the question left for us to pose is, why. Why are we not becoming informed, why are we not embracing our equals who may be affected by HIV/AIDS, why aren’t we trying to surpass the obscurantism and stigma that are a very heavy burden. In short, why not stop thinking that this is something that happens to other people and deconstruct/reformulate, so that everybody can reappropriate their narratives.
This included those who may have been subject to any sort of sexual abuse and have the urgent need to address any potential physical and psychological consequences. Sweeping the facts under the carpet doesn’t make them disappear. Rather, it aggravates a social issue that can be very well addressed from grassroots through extensive information, real accessibility to resources and subsidized treatments.
In summary, to be HIV/AIDS-informed is the most direct way to break free from it.
Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteer