When Bruce Richman, who launched U=U as the Founding Executive Director of PAC (Prevention Access Campaign), found out his positive status 20 years ago, he compartmentalized those worries and didn’t seek treatment until he was hospitalized in 2010. But when he learned about the concept of U=U from his doctor a year later, he realized he had a lot more to learn and a lot more hope left. Since then, Bruce has helped lead a global campaign to educate the public about U=U and what it means for HIV.
“When I learned U=U, that really changed the way I saw my life. With the possibilities of love in my life and the possibility of having a child, I really felt there was so much more for my life. But I was just hearing that from my doctor, so I went and did my research,” Bruce shares.
U=U means that people with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load—the amount of HIV in the blood—by taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) daily as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others (www.niaid.nih.gov). When Bruce learned about U=U, it opened up a lot of opportunities for his life. But what he also learned was the lack of access to this information and treatment was staggering.
“Just knowing wasn’t enough. It drove me crazy, it was 2015 and I’d see this misinformation or lack of information on sites like the CDC and I had to leave my job and clients to launch U=U,” Bruce states.
Bruce founded PAC, which created the U=U campaign in 2016 to build a scientific consensus on U=U and ensure access to information, treatment and care so that people living with HIV can live full and healthy lives without the fear of transmitting the virus. This reduces HIV-related stigma, saves lives and is the foundation to end the HIV epidemic.
“There are still a lot of stigma and misconceptions based on decades of fear of people with HIV. There’s this belief that people with HIV are irresponsible, or that your viral load that indicates that you’re undetectable can fluctuate to infectious levels even if you’re taking your medication. There’s a lot of fear we’re trying to combat,” Bruce explains.
Fighting stigma is a major part of PAC and Bruce’s mission is to push the United States and the world to increase education for the country on the realities of HIV and to update its educational messaging, because it is sorely outdated. And Bruce has some thoughts on what we need to do.
“We need consistent, confidently thought out messages about U=U, especially in the United States. U=U education, that we learned from data, reduces stigma around HIV and testing, so people are getting tested more often and are having healthy conversations about U=U and living with HIV,” Bruce shares.
Another thing that helps end stigma and helps increase life without limits are the variety of treatment options that people living with HIV can utilize into their regimen. Bruce has a lot of thoughts on these new treatment options that only continue to help push U=U and HIV quality of life forward.
“I’m really excited about long-acting injectables. For people living in hostile environments, injectables offer an alternative to pills that may fit better with their lifestyle. I’m also really excited about the potential for viral load testing kits that you can take at home. The accessibility that we’re starting to find for treatment is just incredible,” Bruce says.
Having all of these options that Bruce mentions will help end stigma, increase access and offer a chance for everyone living with HIV to live without limits. And by continuing education and speaking up for the HIV community, Bruce will continue fighting on.
“There’s a powerful role of how activism has changed the way people think about HIV. We [PAC] have a lot of initiatives and lobbying that we’re working towards that will continue to change the way HIV is seen in this country and across the world,” Bruce shares.