For the activist public health doctor Carué Contreiras, campaigns need to go beyond prevention and target clarification. Photo: Sham Hardy/Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0)
From a scientific perspective, the response to the AIDS epidemic can be considered a success. In just over 35 years, the infection went from a global plague to a tractable disease.
New drugs, with less side effects and better performance, have allowed people with the HIV virus to live with virtually no symptoms of AIDS. When the infection is under control — or the patient has “undetectable levels” of the virus, in medical jargon — it is not transmitted by sexual contact. The average life expectancy of a person with HIV is now similar to those without it.
However, people living with HIV and AIDS (often shorted to PLWHA) still face social stigma, which limits their rights, prevents them from finding peers and defending themselves publicly and collectively. Stigma leads to silencing and isolation, which, in turn, contribute to illness and death. The People Living with HIV Stigma Index, research that is sponsored by the United Nations AIDS program and conducted in several countries, shows that 20% of PLWHA have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year.
Brazilian public health doctor and activist Carué Contreiras, a member of the National Network of People Living with HIV / AIDS (RNP +), is one of the professionals working at the intersection of science and human rights. “Science has evolved, but the negative attitude toward us, PLWHA, has not changed. This is an attitude that, in an exercise in strategic essentialism, could be called serophobia,” he told Global Voices by email.
Carué Contreiras, Photo: personal archive, published with permission.
There were more than 36 million people in the world living with the HIV virus by the end of 2016, according to the World Health Organization. It is estimated that 0.8% of adults between ages of 15 and 49 are carriers of the virus, but their geographical distribution is extremely unequal — in Southern Africa, the proportion of people in this age group with HIV is of 4.2%, while in the Americas it is 0.4%, a rate below the world average.
Brazil was the first country in the world to provide anti-HIV drugs for free through its public health system. The number of new infections has been stable since the late 1990s, and, for the first time, more than half of those living with HIV are in treatment.
But this achievement overlooks the prejudices still faced by PLWHA in Brazil. “PLWHA's voices are especially neglected by the media, which often portrays them as victims, or as an example not to be followed, under the auspices of promoting prevention.”
Check out the full interview below.
Why are discussions about HIV still so marginalized, despite the progress of available treatments?