Last week, as an afterthought, I was sent to the my state’s conference on HIV/AIDS which is held annually throughout the state. It has been a number of years since I’ve attended one and I was anxious to see what, if any, personnel changes had occurred since the last time I was present at one. The convocation was sponsored by the state-wide health department and featured a number of guest presenters from across the southeastern region of the USA.
To be honest, after I was invited to attend the event, I actually became somewhat excited. I wondered who would be there and what new information that I would learn. Although I am keeping myself current through my volunteering every Tuesday with an AIDS service non-profit organization, I still was eager to learn of any new strategies and/or protocols that were being either tested or implemented not only within the different regions of my state but also throughout the country as a whole.
There were two dynamic and informative sessions that I attended that not only energized me to learn more, but also inspired me to share this knowledge with as many as possible. The first of these interactive lectures was entitled: U=U (Undetectable = Untransmissible). This workshop offered statistics and studies surrounding the current U=U movement that validated the premise that persons who maintained an undetectable HIV viral load had a significantly reduced risk of infecting their HIV negative sexual partners. I had read about the U=U movement, but hadn’t seen the results of studies conducted on the transmission incidents.
It was good to see some research results that supported the premise of insignificant viral loads seriously reducing cases of HIV transmission. This correlation has been proposed many times in the past but was not supported by any data. This is now proven to sceptics that further studies are necessary and indeed justified. The results will greatly impact the stigma associated with dating and relationship patterns between non serocompatible couples.
Author’s Note: Please understand that the findings available on the “U=U” studies are relevant to the sexual transmission of HIV only and are not relevant to the infection of partners through substance (alcohol and drug) transmission.
The second educational session that not only reignited my passion for combatting this pandemic but re-enforced my previous positions on the substance-related effects of HIV transmission was held on the second conference opening session. I have often advocated the use of non-judgmental language and terminology when discussing substance-related issues surrounding HIV infection. Too often, it seems that clinicians, researchers and educators lose the fact that we’re dealing with humanity and a extremely vulnerable population who need to be understood rather than marginalized and condemned.
This particular presenter appeared to have developed and implemented his program directly from my notebook and assertions. He actually opened his presentation with the statement: “I love all addicts and all of you should too!”
It was interesting to watch the reaction of the audience. Eyes were rolled and several people angrily walked out of his presentation at this point. This was unfortunate as they could probably have reaped enormous benefits from what followed.
One of the key points of this particular session was that as the population of syringe-substance users was all too accustomed of being treated as sub-human, they began to see themselves as such. Therefore, they behaved as less than human. Once they were consistently shown respect and treated with dignity, the majority began to behave in a manner that corresponded to treatment and expectations.
All of this should be second nature to anyone in the human services industry. However, it seems to be universal to most that when it comes to any type of substance dependency, either alcohol or drug, all the courteous norms are cast aside and it is open season on being rude and uncompromising. It was both a refreshing experience and a reaffirming one to know that there is at least one other who has the courage to stand and publicly state his belief that a person’s humanity doesn’t disappear when we decide.
It was nice to be back in the classroom seat again and not to have to think about what I need to remember to say.