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Understanding HIV/AIDS

by Bradford McIntyre

December 2001

    When it comes to how we view HIV/AIDS, the most visible is the fear, illness, disease and death tolls. What we don't see, are the great numbers of individuals infected with the HIV virus, living! We don't see or hear about the countless individuals who have been infected, who are not using HIV drug intervention. From the beginning when HIV first hit the gay community, no treatment, meant people went into action and sought out alternative therapies and supplements and created a network. A network for wellness!

Many individuals who have tested positive, and many who have never been tested, but are sure they would test positive, have never taken HIV/AIDS drugs. Taking responsibility for their life and health has been overwhelmingly effective. Out of a probable 18 years living with the HIV virus in my body, I have gone without drug treatments for 13 of those years. But we don't see or hear this side! We also miss seeing and hearing about individuals engaged in drug treatments, who go off their medications for months and even years.

Recognizing the ability of the body to heal, promoted many to choose to combat HIV in a non-medical direction. Often times, people were effective in preventing illness and disease for years, before drug intervention was ever necessary. Time allowed, because being infected with HIV does not mean instant illness, instant death! Others have gone on living, never having any sign of HIV/AIDS related opportunistic infections, illness or disease. Some, although they test positive, there has never been any virus replicated in their body. Equally so, those who are on drug treatments, have learned to address the importance of diet, exercise, alternative therapies and supplements, mind, body, spirit. Living life and living years, 20 years for many, with more to come!

So much fear has been created around HIV infection and AIDS. The camouflage uniforms worn in the army, disguise and hide, so not to draw attention, able to blend in. The fear associated with HIV/AIDS has kept us in the dark, many fear loosing their family, friends, home and job, causing people to hide the fact they have been infected with the HIV virus. So no one can see, hear, or know the truths of those living with HIV and AIDS. Most often when individuals die from HIV related illness or AIDS, the funeral announcements rarely say HIV/AIDS was the cause, but use cancer, heart disease or any other camouflage. How can we tell the real number of HIV related deaths, how can the public know, without the truth? In the dark because the whole picture is not being told. Individuals dealing with HIV and all those around them who are affected but not infected, they know these truths!

Science, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession and government, have all but ignored much of what many people living with HIV/AIDS have to say, which is a major contribution in the understanding of this virus. Science and the medical profession provide HIV/AIDS information to the media. The media takes this information and in so doing, does it without a real balance of understanding. Unfortunately the fear has undermined our understanding. We see people dying, and certainly in many parts of the world there is malnutrition, lack of medical attention and affordable pharmaceutical resources, causing countless deaths. We see the fear associated with sex and the need for safe sex practices! We hear about the deaths, we hear about drug cocktails, medications being approved, we hear about the resistance to drugs, and we visually, through the media, see those sick with wasting syndrome, PCP pneumonia, kaposi's sarcoma , or crippled by neuropathy. We see people taking a handful of pills.

What is alarming about this situation is the medical profession holds the HIV virus responsible for any and all illness when a patient is diagnosed infected with HIV, using the excuse that a condition is HIV related. It is because of this rampant over diagnosis that little or no search is undertaken for what is causing the health problem. Many have died, many suffered greatly due to misdiagnosis or no diagnosis. Other diseases occur, and with a condition in progress or out of control and very little attention given it, this allows for many suffering and dying. Not from HIV, but from an invasion of bacteria, fungi, viruses and cancers, unaware to those not looking.

We don't see individuals living a happy and full life, whether it be with or without drug treatments. And we don't see it because the fear has people afraid to talk about HIV/AIDS or disclose they have been infected. So we don't have people coming forward to tell their side of HIV/AIDS. How are we going to get people to come forward when the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS has created so much fear. People are hiding their HIV infection! This is likened to the early days of cancer, hiding the fact, only whispering the C word! Everyone who develops cancer does not die, it makes no sense to believe everyone who is infected with HIV will get sick or die either! We don't see those who get sick but benefit from the drugs and have their health restored, many returning to the work force. We don't see or hear about individuals who test positive for HIV or have AIDS, in relationships, falling in love. We don't see the many relationships where one partner is infected and one is not, and the partner who is negative, is not infected.

Here in Canada and the United States we can see the positive affects of nutrition, proper health, and availability of HIV/AIDS drug treatments. But, we also hear some voices of individuals, groups/organizations, scientist's and doctor's discounting the existence of the HIV virus. I believe this is mainly due to the fact that many individuals who were diagnosed HIV positive, so far, have not gone on to develop HIV/AIDS complications, or will never develop AIDS. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is real! I pray the day does not come when these individuals find themselves sick due to HIV infection. I was fortunate to have 13 relatively healthy years, without developing any opportunistic infections or disease. Before any sign there was a problem showed up, there were times when I doubted HIV was responsible for causing illness and disease.

There has been much said and written about the drug AZT, and we do know that many deaths were caused by the toxicity of AZT. On the other hand, everyone's body is different, so it is true that many responded well to AZT. AZT is still being used today, only in lower, safer dosages. In 1990, after five years of being constantly told by doctor's that I needed to be on drug treatment or develop progression to disease, I agreed to go on AZT. In my body, the side effects and toxicity of AZT were life threatening and the drug regime was stopped. Having no health problems, other than having been infected with the HIV, was proven to be true. No health problems related to HIV before this treatment and none to follow for another 8 years after. In 1998 I developed PCP pneumonia and since have been taking a drug cocktail. This year, I have been free of any trace of the HIV virus, through viral load testing. With not one viral particle to be found, it is obvious that we are moving forward in our developing effective drug treatments. However, we must not, we cannot, discount the ability of individuals to have a positive impact and create wellness, using every available means they have to combat the HIV virus.

The public needs to understand HIV and let go of the fear, each person taking part in a global prevention strategy. These days pharmaceutical resistance is evident, with HIV, not only is a person infected with a strain or possible multiple strains, but along with it, comes the possibility of resistance to all the drugs the infected individual has taken. We don't know how each person will react to HIV infection. We need to put money back into wellness! We must not wane from our efforts in safe sex education, prevention, and research. Never was it more important to keep up our efforts, creating less toxic and affordable drugs, and providing proper health care including alternative therapies and supplements.

With proper awareness and education, we can go about living our lives responsibly, " showing up for life", without fear. Not afraid of talking about HIV/AIDS or conversations about safe sex. Letting go of the fear, we can all talk to our family and friends and co-workers we discuss our personal lives with. Our employer can know health related information. And, if need be, we can ask for help and receive help! We can also eliminate false perceptions and judgments due to shear ignorance and prevent the spread of HIV infection. There is more power in people knowing the truth, than there ever was in the fear and hiding! A shift in perception is nothing short of a Miracle!

Bradford McIntyre

Vancouver, BC, Canada


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