2021 marks 40 years since that somber milestone launched an epidemic we are still dealing with today. While medical advances in research, prevention, and treatment have transformed what it is like for those living with AIDS or HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, the stigma still burns brightly for many throughout our country and our world.
There is so much we cannot get back from these 40 years. But we can push forward into a future where HIV isn’t a defining piece of who someone is. That future starts with a status-neutral approach to HIV treatment and prevention.
What is Status Neutral?
It is quite simply a reimagining of the diagnosis and treatment process of HIV.
A “status-neutral approach” essentially evens the playing field with its patients. Instead of dividing people into a bunch of “HIV-positive” and “HIV-negative” subgroups, it prioritizes treating everyone equally with the dignity and respect they deserve.
That means all people, regardless of their HIV status, are treated in the same way from the start. It begins with an HIV test — and, regardless of the results, it enters the individual into one of two paths: “HIV Prevention” and “HIV Treatment” to support everyone’s health regardless of your status.
Its power lies in creating a continuum of care that tackles the HIV epidemic before potential contraction and after. And ends with the same goal: stopping further transmission of the virus and ending the stigma still far too prevalent for those living — and thriving — with it today.
How do we get there?
The science in prevention has lept miles forward with PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, and PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. Both work to prevent the spread of HIV at two points of transmission: before you may be exposed to the virus (pre) and after exposure (post). Coupled with the use of contraception like condoms, the chances of transmission dramatically fall.
For those living with HIV, treatment has made similar strides. Through advancements in antiretroviral drugs that help suppress the virus’s impact on the body, many today can become “undetectable” — which means an individual has a consistently imperceptible level of the virus in their blood when tested. When someone is “undetectable,” they cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partner(s).
Together, these approaches burn the candle at both ends and, effectively, push us forward into a world without the transmission of HIV or the stigma it holds for many.
What is D.C. doing to bring us to a Status Neutral future?
Even before the virus, D.C.’s own Whitman-Walker Health put in the work to serve members of the LGBTQ community. Since 1973, it has made its mission to be “a place where people can just be themselves without fear of judgment or retribution.”
When the U.S. government ignored the virus and its spread, Whitman-Walker sprung into action by tackling the epidemic from all angles … right in the heart of the nation’s capital.
- In 1983, it launched an AIDS Education Fund to provide information, counseling and direct services to people with AIDS.
- In 1984, it opened an AIDS Evaluation Unit. At the time, it was the first gay, community-based medical unit in the country devoted to the study of AIDS.
- In 1985, it opened the city’s first home for people with AIDS.
This is just some of the work Whitman-Walker has accomplished in this space. Today, it remains a trailblazer in D.C.’s medical history, especially for LGBTQ people and HIV-related care.
D.C.’s Department of Health offers a number of resources such as at-home testing kits, PEP, PrEP, access to condoms and contraception, and the like. Many of those very resources can be accessed right here on sexualbeing.org at no cost to you.
Washington, D.C., is also the second health department in the nation to proudly join the “U=U” global awareness campaign led by the Prevention Access Campaign. “U=U” (sometimes stylized as #UEqualsU) educates the public on being undetectable and how that status means the virus is untransmittable from partner to partner(s). And, last December, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the release of the District’s updated plan to end HIV and the community engagement tool: DCEndsHIV.org.
Is a Status Neutral world really possible?
Yes, it is … and we are moving closer and closer to a “status neutral world” and a future free of HIV transmission or stigma. To learn more, please watch and share our video. The only way forward is to keep us all connected and educated. Together, we will make a status-neutral world.