We all know that HIV is no longer a death sentence, but to deny that some people still experience it that way — due to fear, stigma, history, and lack of access — is to miss what happens to young Black men today. The ability to get and stay on treatment, to get to undetectable within weeks, to never transmit the virus and live a normal, healthy life isn’t something you can take for granted if you are a working class person of color in the U.S., much less in a different country (read our feature on HIV-positive asylum seekers from Africa on page 32). If you’re a working class, Black or brown woman with HIV, you know this well too: you may dream of affording the “self-care” everyone recommends for you (massages, acupuncture, vacation) but struggle to pay the rent and buy the kids’ school lunches, much less fork over $50 to feel good for an afternoon.
I’m relieved that my friends who lived are now healthy long-term survivors. I’m thrilled that PrEP uptake has risen almost 500 percent, scientists now universally agree that treatment can make you undetectable (and unable to transmit the virus), and that new research has us closer than ever to a vaccine and a functional cure.
But let’s not forget that while most people today won’t ever see their diagnosis devolve into stage three HIV (formerly known as AIDS), some untreated folks will. Without treatment, AIDS can progress quickly, much like it did in those early years.