June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, so Pharmacy Times interviewed Warren O, a person living with HIV for 11 years who has first-hand experience with HIV stigma, on his perspective on the critical role of testing all sexually active individuals who may be at risk for HIV.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, so Pharmacy Times interviewed Warren O, a person living with HIV for 11 years who has first-hand experience with HIV stigma, on his perspective on the critical role of testing all sexually active individuals who may be at risk for HIV, rather than focusing solely on conducting HIV testing among certain populations, such as individuals identifying in the LGBTQ+ community.
Skylar Kenney: Why is getting tested for HIV still important today?
Warren O: Because everyone who is engaging in any sexual activity is at risk. HIV doesn't discriminate when it comes to gender, race, and ethnicity, so if you're engaging in any sort of risky behavior, and that's a word that I don't adopt, it's the government's word, but anyone who's engaging in sexual activity—because I'm a sex positive individual—runs the risk of HIV diagnosis, if they're doing so with no protection measures in place.
I always give the classic example of myself, because at the first opportunity I had to engage someone sexually, I contracted 2 STIs. I am the poster child for it only takes one time for everything just about. So, I tell anyone don't be like me, be the opposite of me, and protect yourself.
So, I think it's normalizing it in that vein because we don't ever know when that opportunity may present itself are there patients outside of the LGBTQ+ community who would also benefit from getting regularly tested for HIV because we know that anyone engaging in sexual activity is at risk.
The stigma exists because of the initial diagnosis of individuals identifying in the LGBTQ+ community, but we've known all along that they weren't the only ones that actually were HIV positive. It's just the narrative that was shaped from our establishments that existed at the time in the early 80s.
However, I would say, given the complexities of all the marginalized communities and other communities within our makeup around the globe, we find that many cisgender women, for example, are affected, those in particular of color and trans experience are affected, so we've got to get away from this notion that this is a gay man's disease—it is an every human disease.
Once we get to that point, only then can we begin to heal the epidemic that's long overdue from finding a cure and put the epidemic to a low enough point that we are not facing some of the outbreaks.
Skylar Kenney: What are your hopes for the future in regard to care for patients living with HIV and has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your perspective on what is possible in that future?
Warren O: My hope for the future is that there is no HIV globally. That is my hope. I think it can be done. It's always interesting to me, the comparison to COVID-19 because COVID-19 benefited from HIV research and treatment, and so I find that while the 2 infect the body in different ways, and we've found a vaccine for COVID-19 at a very rapid pace, I oftentimes caution folk that HIV has been a pandemic for as long as it's been an epidemic, and until we get to a point where HIV becomes the global responsibility that it should have been all along like COVID-19 has become, we won't see an end to HIV in the way that we are hoping to do.
Skylar Kenney: So, Warren, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Warren O: Thank you for having me, and I'm excited about the opportunity to be able to share with your audience my perspective, my lived experience, and my hope, because we know that for every opportunity we get to share this message, we're making a difference for tomorrow's world today. So, Skylar, I appreciate you and Pharmacy Times for having me to be able to share my story.