A dispute between two groups, both representing people living with HIV that was unusual for its acrimony, ended gracefully today with a statement from The Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) clearly aimed at mending bridges.
The new statement was released by its Amsterdam office this morning, following approval by the GNP+ board. It replaces one posted by GNP+ last week. The previous statement was discussed on PositiveLite.com here..
The first statement had touched off a firestorm of impassioned and sometimes angry commentary on Facebook and beyond that both sides came to the conclusion was an unhelpful and unnecessarily divisive one. Behind the scenes interventions by respected community activists sealed the deal for a solution, an end to hostile comments while the global network penned a fresh take on U = U which clarified their position, stressed the common values of both sides and identified advocacy priorities around expanded treatment access.
It was mostly well received.
“GNP+ acknowledges that certain arguments made in our On Fear, Infectiousness, Undetectability statement were unduly critical of the U=U campaign” says the new statement. “ We take these criticisms seriously and apologize for the way in which some of our points were insensitively framed.”
It continues “our intention in publishing the statement was not to undermine the mission of the U=U campaign. We recognize the significant and important empowerment aspects for people living with HIV in knowing the advancements in evidence over the last few years in HIV treatment as prevention; evidence that should be communicated and understood more broadly. In some contexts, the U=U campaign brings much needed attention to issues of stigma and discrimination through the messaging on the efficacy of ARVs to eliminate the risk of transmission.”
Central to their argument is the need for people living with HIV to be made aware of BOTH health AND prevention benefits of successful antiretroviral therapy. The reality is that globally just less than half the number of people living with HIV have access to treatment. The statement stresses ongoing dialogue. “GNP+ remains committed towards advancing the use of inclusive language that prioritizes the health, safety and wellbeing of all PLHIV, regardless of their treatment access and/or detectability status within a framework of positive health, dignity and prevention. In this line, we would like to invite all relevant stakeholders into constructive dialogues to further discuss these issues.”
Supporters of U=U had argued that the Prevention Access Campaign had acknowledged treatment access issues and a health-first approach as core campaign value on their sign-up page. Some had also suggested that the campaign’s primary function was as a knowledge provider - to communicate the facts about undertectable viral load to people who had been denied that knowledge previously. Some argued too that this knowledge could serve as an advocacy tool for improved access and other measures of benefit to all people living with HIV.
New York’s Bruce Richman of the Prevention Access Campaign was reached in Seattle Washington today and spoke approvingly of the new GNP+ statement.
“Prevention Access Campaign' worked closely with the leading researchers and research organizations to clarify that a person living with HIV who is on ART and virally suppressed does not transit HIV” he said. “Undetectable = Untransmittable. Our role now is to ensure that this groundbreaking science is communicated in a way that benefits the people and field it is intended to serve. We look forward to working with GNP to ensure this science is available to communities worldwide to localize and use in ways that work for them.”
“As GNP+ has underscored, and PAC and our community partners who have endorsed the U=U campaign agree, that while we share groundbreaking information about the public health impact of treatment, we must acknowledge it is never a public health responsibility of a person living with HIV to initiate and adhere to treatment, and we must urgently address barriers to accessing treatment and diagnostic so that people living with HIV worldwide have the option to benefit from the science.”
We have never pretended to be an entirely neutral voice on this issue. As a vehicle for opinion on the health and wellbeing of people, living with HIV, we sometimes take positions. One of these has been to support, and in fact endorse quite early on, the work of the U = U campaign. In fact I have worked hard with Richman and my peer colleagues to make the voice of the campaign heard loud and clear in Canada and beyond. So impartial we are not.
It’s been disheartening this last week to see the work of that campaign questioned when it is so clearly of benefit. So many respected community partners of all stripes and from around the globe have recognized that. It's been disheartening too to see people living with HIV pitted against each other so vehemently.
Somewhat needlessly too when the ideals of the two groups have so much overlap, so entwined in extending the benefits of treatment, however they are defined, to all.
But it shows we all care. Caring is what this work is about.
In response GNP+ has stepped up to the plate. They have made peace without losing face. Meanwhile the Prevention Access Campaign has listened and, thanks to GNP+, has become more sensitized and more understanding of the issues that matter most to its global colleagues.
It’s a good outcome indeed.