At 45 years old, I am part of the generation that lived through the devastation of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and ’90s. My childhood best friend and I both lost uncles to HIV-related complications. And stigma and fear was so great at the time around HIV, neither of them wanted anyone to see them in the end. It was heartbreaking.
But then, after over a decade of toxic AZT meds often hurting those living with HIV more than helping them, a miracle happened. In the mid-1990s, scientists developed antiretroviral drugs that were finally able to successfully combat HIV. Thanks to this incredible breakthrough, people with HIV are now living full and healthy lives, with life expectancies the same as people who are HIV-negative. So when I learned in the early 2000s that a close friend of mine was living with HIV, it was a very different experience. Though for an instant my heart skipped a beat while remembering the painful losses of my youth, this time there were no tears or tragic feelings. He simply said, “I take two pills a day and am going to be fine.”
One of the best parts of this development has been the fact that antiretroviral meds, when taken as prescribed, typically bring one’s viral load down to undetectable. And when one’s viral load is undetectable, the virus has a zero chance of being transmitted to a partner through sex — even without the use of a condom. This is also known as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable, and has allowed people living with HIV, and their partners, to enjoy joyful sex lives.
In this issue of Plus, we present our annual Treatment Guide, which brings you the latest info on all the HIV treatment and prevention methods that are now available. In it, you’ll find a complete list of the most common FDA-approved drugs currently used to treat HIV. We also go over things like possible drug side effects, what new treatments are in development, and reasons why you may want to switch up your regimen.
And then there’s PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. This HIV prevention method has also been revolutionary for people living with HIV and their sexual partners. Currently, there are three forms of PrEP approved by the Food and Drug Administration: Truvada and Descovy, which are pill versions, and Apretude, the new injectable that only needs to be taken every two months. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is 99 percent effective in preventing an HIV-negative partner from acquiring HIV through sex.
Also in this issue, we chat with two well-known gay men who have bravely shared their personal journeys of living with HIV with the world: our cover star Danny Roberts of The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans and four-time Olympic gold-medalist diver Greg Louganis. Roberts was diagnosed well after the new effective meds were developed while Louganis struggled on AZT treatment during the 1988 Olympics, but both men speak of the stigma and discrimination they dealt with.
We also chat with Dr. Catherine Kibirige, a British scientist who developed a new, more sensitive HIV test to help diagnose and treat folks in Africa and further advance in HIV research. “Women in science, we have a unique voice, we have a unique perspective,” she says. “We have the skills for sure — we tend to be detail oriented, we work hard, so we are well suited for science.”
Yes, we’ve come a long way since those dark early days of the epidemic. Thanks to the dedication of folks like Dr. Kibirige and the many others in the research community, as well as the stigma-smashing visibility of men like Louganis and Roberts, life will only continue to get better for those living with HIV and their loved ones.
Peace & Blessings,
Plus Editor in Chief