There was a joint report out this winter from the Prevention Access Campaign and Merck, which uncovered alarmingly widespread ignorance and stigma around HIV from young people.
The answers from both millennials and Gen Z (a generation we often talk about being more open, inclusive, and diverse than any before) were heartbreaking.
Over a quarter of HIV-negative millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 36) say they avoid hugging, talking, or even being friends with someone who is living with HIV. Thirty percent avoid interacting socially with someone with HIV. One in three Black and Latinx millennials also avoid shaking hands or sharing drinks or utensils with someone living with HIV.
Considering that one cannot acquire HIV through any of those means, these widespread fears are a testament to the absence of updated education around HIV.
In the “Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead” study, Gen Zs fared worse. Forty-one percent of those who were 18-22 years old were either “not at all informed” or only “somewhat informed” about HIV.
This is why the work of the Prevention Access Campaign and its founding director, Bruce Richman, is so critical. For the last several years, PAC has recruited scientists, doctors, and activists to help spread the now nearly-universally accepted message about U=U (or undetectable equals untransmittable).
U=U has been endorsed by scientists worldwide, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. federal government’s health protection agency.
Still, many people have never heard (or refuse to believe) that people living with HIV who are on treatment cannot transmit HIV once they reach and maintain an undetectable viral load.
Richman has been the driving force behind getting that message out, and he and PAC deserve accolades for spearheading the drive to educate the world about what is one of the most significant medical breakthroughs around HIV in years. U=U is stigma busting and it offers a clear path to end the epidemic.
Plus has been covering Richman’s work for almost a decade, and at this point I am proud to call him a friend. But that doesn’t influence the magnitude of what he and dozens of other U=U ambassadors have pulled off. While there is much more to do, as many of the folks profiled in our latest issue will attest, we just want to stop and marvel at where we are now.
If we can get everyone access to treatment and money to pay for it — a tall task, I know — most people could reach undetectable levels and never again have to worry about how (or who) they love.