Aids activist Ant Babajee explains the contemporary importance of the new documentary How to Survive a Plague, opening this Friday, which follows the story of two New York based coalitions whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.
Ant Babajee has been living with HIV for around seven years. With a background in broadcast media, he has sought to use his skills to be an HIV advocate and an activist. Ant is a trustee-elect of Terrence Higgins Trust. He can be contacted on Twitter at @t4rdis.
'Plague! We are in the middle of a plague!' So shouts playwright and activist Larry Kramer at an ACT UP meeting to bring order after it descends into near anarchy. It was certainly true back then and it is still true today.
How to Survive a Plague has got to be one of the most moving, uplifting and empowering films I think I have ever seen. David France's Oscar-nominated film is not just a brilliant piece of storytelling - with some amazing 'found' footage of ACT UP meetings. As a budding HIV activist myself, I found it hugely inspirational.
Now is the time
Here we are some 25 years on, and AIDS has started to slip out of the lexicon. You don't go for an 'AIDS test' - you are tested for HIV.
I have never had an AIDS diagnosis. I was able to access effective, life-saving treatment before my immune system became damaged. I describe myself as living with HIV - with the emphasis very much on the 'living'.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of those ACT UP and TAG activists in the US, and to all of our home-grown activists here in the UK. They kept pushing and pushing for better treatments with fewer side-effects, and they helped care for and support those people who became sick.
But the fight is certainly not over, and HIV activism is absolutely still relevant today.
There is still no cure, and people do still die from HIV-related illnesses. There are almost 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, and it's estimated that a quarter of people with the virus are undiagnosed - some 25,000 people. It is a figure that still shocks me.
AIDS and HIV has dropped out of the 'national conversation'. While thankfully treatment has come on in leaps and bounds, the stigma remains. If anything, from my experience, stigma is getting worse, certainly on the gay scene, as many younger gay guys are not just talking about HIV in a sensible and informed way.
It’s only by all of us talking about HIV that we can make it easier for untested people to feel less stigma and fear about going to get tested, and for those positive people who know their status to disclose to their partners.
I think there is a real need to put a 'face' to HIV in 2013 as most of the images in the media are medical ones - vials of blood, needles and CD4 cells infected with HIV. I, for one, am prepared to stand up and talk about HIV. I would hope my example might help others, negative and positive, to do the same.
The fight is different - it's about helping people to live with HIV and it's about breaking stigma - but it definitely still goes on.
How can I help?
This is a simple question to answer. Watch the film. And then talk about it.
I think for everyone watching the film and reading this blog, activism can take different forms.
Maybe you know someone who's positive but you feel embarrassed about talking about HIV. Don't be shy - just talk.
Let’s not let the fear of HIV mean we can’t talk about it.
Educate yourself. Break the stigma. Take on the fight.
How to Survive a Plague opens on Friday 8 November.
This article is posted in: Film