By Alex Garner
Editor's note: Today's contribution is by writer/actor/advocate Brenden Shucart.
2012 was a momentous year in our community’s decades long struggle with HIV. If 2011 changed the landscape of the fight forever, then 2012 provided our first real roadmap to the End of AIDS and provided a glimpse at the tools and technologies that will help take us there.
Collected below are some of the most exciting political, cultural, and scientific developments of the last twelve months; stories that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago, and that’s impact that will not be fully understood until 2013 or beyond.
The FDA Approves Truvada For HIV Prevention
2012 was a year of unbelievable, almost science-fiction-y, medical and scientific advances when it comes to our understanding of the virus and our ability to fight its spread. A new once-a-day “Quad” pill, Stribild, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Researchers at UCLA engineered stem-cells to seek out and kill cells infected with HIV. And a young girl’s leukemia was even cured by using a disabled form of the virus.
And in what is arguably the most important scientific advancement in combating the spread of HIV since the development latex condoms; this July the FDA gave the green-light to the pharmaceutical company Gilead to market it’s antiretroviral medication “Truvada” for use as a Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, by HIV-negative adults in high-risk situations.
Though the FDA’s approval came after extensive trials, and Truvada has proven to be more than 90% effective at preventing the spread of HIV when used correctly, the approval of Truvada as PrEP has been met with plenty of controversy and more than a little hysteria.
At Home HIV Test Becomes Reality
In a move that was slightly less controversial, but which may prove to be just as important to creating an AIDS free generation, the Food and Drug administration okayed the first ever over-the-counter home HIV testing kit.
The $40 price tag represents a significant barrier to those who might use it. But in a world where more than 50% of new infections occur because of the more than 20% of people who are living with HIV and don’t know it, any new option for testing represents a potentially huge development.
HIV-Positive, Sexy, and Proud
No longer content to be pariahs and cautionary tales lurking on the edges of gay culture, 2012 saw a concerted effort to foster pride and community within the population of gay men living with HIV, to combat stigma from without, and to rekindle long dormant conversations about sexual liberation.
Campaigns like Make (+) More Positive challenged the notion of HIV-shame, while The Stigma Project was born with the vision of creating an HIV-neutral world. Powerful films such as United in Anger and How to Survive a Plague reconnected HIV-positive men with our history of political struggle and survival in the face of overwhelming opposition. And brave individuals like Australian Olympian, Ji Wallace, chose to buck stigma and act as role models by coming out of the closet as HIV-positive.
Blueprint For an AIDS-Free Generation
This November in a speech to the National Institute of Health, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, outlined the PEPFAR blueprint for bringing about an AIDS-free generation; one where-
“virtually no children are born with HIV; where, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today; and where those who do acquire HIV have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”
The blueprint is a multi-pronged strategy that focuses on increasing direct support for treatment and prevention services, ending HIV-stigma and discrimination, and eliminating mother-to-child transmission of the virus. It’s a bold vision that commits the United States to a role as global leader in the fight to end AIDS.
2013 and Beyond
As exciting as 2012 has proven to be, 2013 holds the promise of advances beyond our wildest dreams; condoms made of HIV-fighting medication, vaccine trials, and possibly even tantalizing glimpses of a cure. But the future is far from certain. In the early hours of the New Year the President and Congress reach a short-term deal to avert fiscal calamity, but a failure to reach a more comprehensive, long-term compromise could mean draconian cuts to vital services for those living with HIV. Which would mean a devastating blow to the struggle with HIV and AIDS, setting us back a decade or more.
The future is in our hands. Whether we drop it and let it shatter, or shape it into something remarkable is entirely up to us.