By Steven Vargas, Achieving Together Partner
I never told my mother of my own HIV-positive status. Several months after I found out about myself having HIV she would pass away. I would begin my downward spiral into depression, isolation, and drug use. I was disappointed in myself for becoming a statistic—another young gay man with HIV who would likely follow in the steps of other gay men with HIV to an early grave. We did not know any different in the days prior to 1996, the year antiretrovirals were introduced. If you had HIV, you were most likely dead within the next couple of decades at the longest. It was what I witnessed for years helping my mother and her friends.
Here we are today, some 23-plus years since my own acquisition of HIV and 29 years since my introduction to the HIV community. In this time, we have had the benefit of advancements in medical treatment and care through the introduction of HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy). This advancement snatched people living with HIV from the jaws of death. Today, we also know that people living with HIV who are on antiretrovirals can reach a point where they are described as being undetectable. Though still living with HIV, reaching this point prevents HIV from being transmitted from a person living HIV to anyone else. Treatment is a form of preventing future HIV transmissions.
Today, we also have that dreamed-about pill my friends and I would discuss after messed up efforts to protect ourselves from acquiring HIV. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, has been proven to prevent acquisition of HIV if taken correctly and under medical supervision. These two strategies, Treatment as Prevention, as described above, and PrEP, together are resulting in the first real decline of new HIV cases in our country this century.
My life with HIV is vastly different from my mother’s.
I live in a time where we have the medications to keep us living longer.
I live in a time where these same medications release me from the fear of passing this virus on to the person who matters to me most.
I live in a time where what was once a dream for keeping me safe from acquiring HIV is now a reality for many young gay men and the men who have great, fun loving sex with them.
I live in a time where people living with HIV, along with their friends and allies, have been able to create a plan to finally end this epidemic.
“Achieving Together”, or “Logrando Juntos” in Spanish contains a number of actions anyone can take to help move the idea of “ending the epidemic” into reality.
Mr. Steven Vargas, Program Coordinator with AAMA (Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans) began helping people living with HIV in 1989, has been living with HIV since 1995, and was recognized as one of Poz Magazine’s “100 Long Term Survivors” in its annual “Top 100” December 2015 issue. Steven is a board member of Houston’s OH Project which preserves the experiences of Houstonians impacted by HIV, and is serving a four year term as a Community Member representative to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. He also serves as a Trainer for NMAC’s Building Leaders of Color program and as a consultant with Project CHATT (Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Training and Technical Assistance), which provides technical assistance to Ryan White planning bodies in reaching their legislative requirements.