The founder of the U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) movement is heading down under this week and will be speaking at three separate panel events in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.
Bruce Richman was fed up with the stigma surrounding U=U so he started the movement and now travels the world working with people living with HIV, MSM and other at-risk communities to help spread the message.
The U=U movement conveys that if someone living with HIV has maintained an undetectable viral for more than six months, HIV is not passed on through sex, even if condoms or PrEP aren’t used.
An undetectable viral load is when the amount of HIV in a person’s body is no longer at detectable levels by a standard viral load test.
Bruce Richman said that when he learnt that U=U it changed his whole perspective on what was actually possible.
“It changed my life because so many of us who live with HIV could never imagine a time when we could love, when we could have sex or have babies without fear – and that fear has been present in the most intimate moments of our lives,” said Richman.
“I was elated but I was also outraged because people weren’t being told.
“I had been alone for nine years because I didn’t want to pass on HIV to someone I loved.
“When I was diagnosed I knew I would live but I didn’t want to live because I felt like I couldn’t love anyone without the fear of passing this disease on.”
Richman though has come up against resistance, even having been called “a danger to gay men’s holistic health”, despite his assertion that he is helping people living with HIV to have healthy sexual and reproductive lives, free of fear and shame.
“We teach a lot about messaging because it’s so important to get it across accurately,” he said.
“We can’t leave the window open by using terms like an undetectable viral load ‘reduces risk’ or there’s ‘extremely low risk’ or allow people to say that people should still use a condom or PrEP just in case, because all these phrases still mean you’re dangerous.
“Instead we can use phrases like ‘zero risk’ and ‘won’t transmit’ – we really can use them now because the greatest minds in the field are saying it.”
U=U is an international consensus statement, signed and supported by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Body Positive, Positive Women and INA Foundation. Top medical journal The Lancet named the U=U statement as “the most important message of 2017 in the fight against HIV.”
There are around 3,500 people living with HIV in New Zealand whose lives will be positively impacted by the U=U message.
The U=U Tour will include a panel of speakers alongside Richman including, Nic Holas, the co-founder of The Institute of Many, an Australian grassroots movement for people living with HIV, Jason Myers the Chief Executive, NZAF, Marama Mullen-Tamati MNZM, Kaiwhakahaere of INA Foundation and a number of HIV+ speakers provided by the Positive Speakers Bureau.
The events are free and can be booked on the links below.
Wellington – November 1st from 5.30pm Te Kāhui Auaha, 65 Dixon St – Details here
Auckland – November 2nd from 5.30pm Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place – Details here
Christchurch – November 3rd from 5.30pm Great Hall: Arts Centre, 2 Worcester Boulevard – Details here