For more than three decades we have lived with HIV/AIDS. The earliest years of the epidemic were characterized by both dread and hope, anxiety and action. Community-based peer education and activism emerged among sexual minority collectives. When public officials failed and fell short, the HIV infected and affected marshaled energy and intelligence, learning about treatments, teaching each other risk-reduction strategies, and forcing changes in medical research, public policy, and law through direct action like ACT UP.
With the development and introduction of anti-retroviral treatments in 1996, the AIDS epidemic turned a corner. From a nearly guaranteed death sentence, HIV infection became a manageable chronic condition. Over the past two decades HIV has become a nuisance rather than a nemesis.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) have largely become complacent, careless, and in denial.
A new study conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, HIV/AIDS In The Lives Of Gay And Bisexual Men In The United States, has found:
- Half of MSM respondents said that HIV/AIDS is somewhat or very significant to them, but only one-third were concerned about becoming HIV infected and over half said that they were not concerned.
- Most are ignorant of infection trends — that new infections among MSM are rising — thinking that infection rates have stayed the same or declined.
- Most MSM are unaware of current treatment recommendations, including early intervention after HIV infection and even PrEP prevention to reduce infections among those who are engaging in risky behavior.
- Most report that they have not discussed HIV/AIDS with friends or even sexual partners.
- One-third have never been tested for HIV, while only one-third have been tested in the past year.
- More than half have never had a primary care provider recommend HIV testing, and almost two-thirds reported that their primary care providers did not initiate a conversation about sexual behavior.
These disturbing findings constitute a wake-up call for MSM (many of whom do not identify as “gay” and who may not be connected to gay social networks).
They remind us how essential it is the initiate a conversation with primary care providers about our sexual practices and relationships.
They remind us how essential is our taking ownership of our health, disease prevention, and self-management of chronic conditions.
As journalist and chronicler of the AIDS epidemic, John-Manuel Andriote, has written of this Kaiser report: “The most powerful gay liberation movement we could ever launch would be to liberate ourselves from the many harms that ignorance can inflict on us. The movement’s success starts with each one of us making healthful choices. The first step forward is to know your own HIV status.”