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Guest Opinion: Almost 40 years later, still no AIDS cure in sight

by James May

The human immunodeficiency virus. Photo: Courtesy CDC
The human immunodeficiency virus. Photo: Courtesy CDC  

As we observe another World AIDS Day December 1, I wish I could believe a cure was in sight but unfortunately I cannot. My experience living with HIV and working in the HIV/AIDS sector has shown me what we're up against — a monolithic pharmaceutical industry that thrives on us swallowing pills for the rest of our lives.

To compound this, the ACT/UP heroes of the 1980s have been replaced by the drug company stalwarts who set the agenda in today's AIDS organizations. While there are many dedicated staff working in the community, AIDS organizations are now often led by corporate figures with lucrative careers, while people living with HIV are relegated to popping pills and living with social disadvantage, prejudice, and discrimination.

AIDS organizations sprang up at the height of the AIDS crisis and many are still here today, mostly to promote drugs for the pharmaceutical industry. The "health promotion" efforts of AIDS organizations are merely drug promotion. Any challenge to this agenda is fiercely discouraged. The voices of people living with HIV are not welcome unless we praise AIDS organizations and their pharmaceutical agenda, and no one is employed in the HIV/AIDS sector unless they do the same.

Many with positions of authority in AIDS organizations have taken generous donations from the pharmaceutical industry. They're happy for us to swallow pills for the rest of our lives if it serves their careers. These people have used their positions in the HIV/AIDS sector for their own gain — while many of their constituents live in poverty.

The conversation around HIV needs to shift away from life-long medication and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to finding a cure, but this is prevented by AIDS organizations and their colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry. The notion that they can stop this epidemic by medicating millions of people with antiviral drugs is highly unlikely. This strategy is practically and financially difficult in many Western countries, and impossible in developing nations.

The only legitimate way to solve this epidemic is with a vaccine or cure, as argued by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett in her 2018 article, "Welcome to the Next Deadly AIDS Pandemic." "The two greatest resource needs receive little rhetorical or financial attention: a vaccine and a cure ...," she writes, "it is impossible to imagine global control of the virus continuing to rest primarily on lifelong, daily drug treatment for tens of millions of people."

After living with HIV for 20 years, I'm fed up with AIDS organizations and drug companies boasting about one pill after another that can suppress the virus, but can't eradicate it. Many people endure uncomfortable side effects from these drugs. I'm fed up with relentless articles in the media about celebrities and charities that are raising money to "help people living with HIV."

There's a very good reason why the AIDS epidemic drags on. It's because there's so much money, employment, power, and prestige to be gained from it. There are too many bureaucrats in the AIDS establishment who enjoy the perks from government and the pharmaceutical industry. Milking this epidemic for all it's worth has become more important than helping people living with HIV and finding a cure.

HIV/AIDS is not an epidemic that AIDS organizations and drug companies are racing to resolve. It's an epidemic that AIDS organizations have built their business upon, and that drug companies are making billions from. Everyone involved is reaping rewards — at the expense of people living with HIV.

Rather than begging for more drugs, the LGBTQ community should unite against the AIDS establishment and the pharmaceutical industry to stop this epidemic. We don't have to accept that HIV is here to stay, and that medicating ourselves is the only way to survive.

There's still a culture of silence around HIV, but it is silence and apathy that allows the AIDS establishment and the pharmaceutical industry to thrive — because no one questions their agenda or motives.

People have suffered for years over the fallout from HIV. Millions have died or been left mentally and physically disabled. We've all been terrorized by this deadly virus, and we need to stand up to the AIDS establishment and the pharmaceutical industry and demand a cure.

James May, a queer man, has written extensively for the HIV/AIDS sector. He's been living with HIV for over 20 years. He can be reached at james.sc.may@gmail.com

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