So World AIDS Day is coming up again, and we'll get a little flurry of articles and some notice in the mainstream media: Not much, but some. In the latest UNAIDS Report there is a bit of good news: the global infection rate has begun to fall - a little - and let's wait a few years to see how solid this trend is - but it's good news.
New Zealand barely rates a mention: we get bundled into Oceania. We have one of the lowest infection rates anywhere, and as they note, as is typical in a high-income country, the majority of our new infections still involve men having sex with men, and most of those are men who report getting infected here in NZ.
We are a small country, with a small population, and what is by most countries' standards a tiny population of HIV+ people. Even when you include those who have died we have only had about 3,000 people infected - and roughly have 2,000 living with it now.
We don't get a hell of a lot of attention from the government, which also reflects the tiny HIV+ population I guess. The recent much-anticipated Miller Report basically said everyone working in the field is doing a good job but they need more money. Well, that's no surprise. Fat chance we'll see any extra cash though. And I'm a bit disappointed it didn't take a more critical view of some aspects, I have to say.
I'm one of those men who got infected with it overseas - probably in the USA when I fucked my way from San Francisco to New York in 1984. Hey, I was 23 and out for a good time. One of the first pieces of safe sex advice I got in NY was to give anyone I wanted to go home with a hug, and try and slip my hands in his armpits to see if his glands were up, and if they were, to make my excuses. No condoms and lube on the bars in those days.
It's hard to remember just how bad it was back then, the level of fear and hysteria that surrounded it all was intense. There was a lot of bigotry, a lot of ignorance, a lot of nastiness. Generally things are better than back then, but you still find the bigotry and ignorance - even in the gay community.
But for most HIV+ people - and I stress the "most", I know there are exceptions - life today is far better than anything we could have hoped for. Most HIV+ people in NZ are doing ok. Some are doing excellently. But some never really recover from the shock of their diagnosis. Some simply can't tolerate the side-effects of the medications.
I look at my own life with HIV, and see how much of an impact it has had. I've been working on my CV, and there is this big gap, from 1994, just when I was moving into a good place career wise, getting into management, and 2003, when I next have real work. I was simply too sick and weak through that time to work. It hasn't done my job prospects much good.
And like many guys who have had it for a long time, I still have that sense that it is all going to come tumbling down around me. I find personal long-term planning difficult, and at times I still can't quite believe that I have a future, that I'm not an invalid, that I won't be back in hospital in a few weeks. It's weird, because I actually do have a very good life, I feel loved and cared for, I have wonderful friends, I do pretty much what I want, though I'd like more financial security - but who wouldn't?
So my feelings are mixed around World AIDS Day. It's good we get a little attention. Basically, in NZ, if you have HIV you can do pretty well: you will get access to good medication, if you're near a big city you'll get excellent medical care.
But having HIV still sucks. Keep yourselves safe, don't get it. It is really not something you want in your life.
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