After 30 years there is still a lot of misinformation floating around about HIV. And that’s where the Prevention Access Campaign comes into the picture. The recently launched organization hopes to combat the false and misleading information surrounding the HIV community and replace it with facts.
“The way studies are communicated; they’re filtered through layers of bias … it’s a cultural mind shift to think that people with HIV can have sex faithfully,” said Bruce Richman, Co-Director of the Prevention Access Campaign.
One such area of confusion is what it means to be “undetectable.” Recent studies have shown that having an undetectable viral load for six months while on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) means that the threat of transmission to a partner is negligible.
A quick web search yields results falsely touting that people with undetectable status and on ART still present risk of transmission, even after six consistent months of having an undetectable viral load. Hiv.va.gov, a veteran health information resource, still lists that in the same situation, risk is reduced by 96 percent as opposed to the risk being considered negligible.
John Byrne, Co-Director of PAC, explained that the 96 percent figure was borne from a study that included the results of individuals with HIV who had both detectable and undetectable viral loads. The undetectable group alone did not have one case of transmission, qualifying the risk as negligible.
The Campaign is in the process of establishing an “Accuracy Watchdog” program — a collaboration between PAC and the Human Rights Campaign to monitor and resolve confusing and conflicting messaging related to HIV prevention.
PAC hopes to have the Watchdog ensure that when people have questions about HIV — such as the undetectable load status and what it means for transmission — they find accurate and up-to-date information.
“Activating and engaging people living with HIV in the community and being aware of what is being said: Are they being honest? Are they exaggerating? That is what the accuracy watchdog will be for,” Richman said. “This is not about promoting condomless sex, this is about giving people options. It is not about promiscuity … that’s not the majority of the population. Many people we work with are married or in monogamous relationships, but the community is very diverse.”
The Prevention Access Campaign also strives to spread general health information and give medication access to a wider range of people affected by HIV, and share prevention options for those who may be at risk.
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“The majority of people most vulnerable to HIV are unaware or do not have access to the range of prevention options, and the majority of people living with HIV are unaware that antiretroviral therapy prevents transmission to others,” Byrne said.
“Because of stigma, people aren’t getting checked and getting treated, but with this campaign we can hopefully slow down transmissions,” Richman said.
Campaigns are in the works for Miami, one example being the successful New York campaign “Swallow This” from HIV/AIDS prevention group, Harlem United. The goal of the campaign is to spread awareness of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that is effective at preventing HIV transmissions.
One of the biggest goals of PAC is “activating the HIV community to be aware of what is being said,” according to Richman. The campaign strives to eliminate the fear surrounding the HIV community while also being very sex positive.
“It’s an empowering campaign,” Byrne said. “We are really activating the community, the people with HIV. We’re activating people with HIV to keep a look out and patrol.”
You can find out more about the Prevention Access Campaign on their website, PreventionAccess.org.