We need to bring HIV out of the closet: Joey Bugo
Joseph Bugo, an HIV activist who has been living with HIV over 20 years after having tested positive in 1990 when he was just 24 years old, shares his experiences and advice.
Joey Bugo. Photo courtesy of Joseph Bugo.
Born and raised in Hong Kong until he was 21 years old, he now lives in New York City although he has been travelling to Hong Kong regularly to visit his family and volunteer his time attending support groups organised by various HIV organisations.
Speak out about HIV
For the past seven years, there has been a troubling 12-15% increase in new infections in the gay community, particularly in the Asia region that is devastating our community. In the United States, one in five gay and bisexual men in major cities is infected with HIV, and nearly half — 44% — do not know their status, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention (CDC). In Thailand, the prevalence rate of HIV has risen from 17.3% in 2003 to 29.4% in 2011 among MSM or more than one in four, according to US and Thai health authorities.
Our community has decided to live with HIV/AIDS and not talk about it. Our silence on HIV is allowing stigma, fear, negative perception to grow, even within our community such as discriminating, rejecting, labeling, judging, criticising and unfair treatment. We need to speak out to break down barriers and building the community again. We as a community need to bring HIV out of the closet.
Let's speak out about HIV for our sexual health in our community. It starts with a conversation – in our relationships, with our health care providers, with the people in our lives. By talking openly and honestly about HIV, we help to confront stigma and misinformation. It's time we act on knowledge, not out of fear.
Talk about it. Help educate and teach others what HIV is today in 2013, how it is much different than it was in 2003, and even 1993.
Know your status by testing
We also empower one another to take actions we know can end this disease, including using protection, knowing our status, understanding the benefits and importance of regular testing (every three-six months) and getting and staying on treatment if positive. How many of you can really say "I am HIV-negative," got tested within the last three months and had 100% safe sex ever in your entire life?
Decreasing stigma increases testing. Knowing is better than not knowing.
Getting a positive test result – or finding out a partner is positive or revealing your own status – does not have to mean the end of a relationship.
With all we know today, and all the tools available to us provided by all HIV organisations, no one infected with HIV has to die or suffer from AIDS. It's now a lifelong manageable condition. It is possible someone who is HIV-positive and someone who is HIV-negative to have a healthy sexual relationship. You just need to take actions to protect one another.
Treatment is prevention
Not only do antiretroviral medications (they work to reduce the amount of the virus in the body to undetectable levels) improve health and extend life for someone with HIV (at least 80 years old – daily medication adherence along with a healthier lifestyle). But we also know now that ongoing treatment can significantly reduce the chance of infecting someone else. To give you an encouraging piece of news as an example: Mother to child transmission is now under 4%.
80% of people living with HIV have the virus under control and live long, full lives like myself. Seeing is believing.
People living with HIV who take their daily medications REDUCE the risk of transmitting the virus by as much as 96%. Treatment is prevention.
AND LET'S NOT FORGET ABOUT CONDOMS. Condoms are highly effective, don't cost a thing in protecting against the spread of HIV and many other sexually transmitted infections like Hepatitis B and C between sexual partners.
Make HIV a part of your routine health care checks
When someone shares with you that he is HIV-positive, return that courage and honesty with the respect it deserves. Encourage him to see a doctor. Offering to go with him may help, and you can also get answer to any questions you have. Are you poz friendly?
Taking care of ourselves means making HIV a part of our routine health care checks. Ask to be tested.
Rapid HIV tests are available in many doctor's offices and clinics, and provide results in as fast as 20 minutes. You can get the results at the same appointment.