HIV Activist asks for Hugs in Valletta and the outcome had us in tears. This is why we did it.
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
#Malta is not new to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (#HIV) and like the rest of the world, people on this tiny island had been diagnosed with it since it was discovered in the 1980s. It is to our dismay to say that, civil society organisations and the public, are left in the dark with up-to-date statistics of how many people are living with HIV. International bodies like UNAIDS and World Health Organization (WHO) fail to report updated data as a result of inconsistent reporting from the relevant authorities.
This is disempowering for us, as an organisation which uses its voluntary resources to raise awareness on prevention and better treatment on #STIs as well as for people who are living with the virus and their families. The message being portrayed by the Government is that this population is invisible.
Medical research on the virus has paved the way for effective treatment regimes that suppress it to the point of becoming undectetable with just one pill a day that has no side effects.
Again, to our dismay, our National Health Service is still treating HIV+ patients in Malta with 6 or 7 pills daily that is having damaging side-effects to their physical and mental health.
The recent study that proved U=U, meaning that HIV+ persons whose viral load is undectetable cannot transmit the virus to other persons, even without the use of condoms or PrEP, has been a breakthrough in alleviating the stigma.
For the third time, we were disappointed to see that no nationwide educational campaign was carried out especially amongst educators, health & social care practitioners. The only voice in the desert to raise some awareness was the facebook page called Preping Malta.
All these factors combined have led to many people in Malta living with HIV to hide it and never come out. They portray to live a ‘normal’ life, when in reality they are constantly under duress to maintain their treatment regime of 6 pills daily. This archaic treatment makes them fatigued and nauseated to the point of having a very limited social life or career. Moreover they are constantly worried of people getting to know their status for fear of rejection. Not even one person in Malta had ever come out publicly as HIV+.
The progress Malta made in terms of Equality for LGBTQ+ persons made waves across the world, especially to this minority who were looking to relocate for work in a country which is safe and provides them with equal rights. This was a huge pull factor to attract a diversified and talented workforce or to open up a business, only to learn of the out-dated HIV treatment being given here in Malta. We know for a fact, people have reconsidered moving here because of this.
Along came Chris Vincent, a Danish guy living in Amsterdam, who, in Summer of 2018, came out publicly on facebook as being HIV+. Fate brought him to Malta and he comes across our radar. We invite him to speak to the media and suddenly something begins to tremble. People start reaching out to him and to us, telling us their stories and how they feel invisible and afraid of rejection. We had to do something. At this point, Chris and I feel there is a need for some street activism. He grabs a cardboad and a pen and writes ‘I have HIV, R U Afraid to Hug Me?’ and stands in Republic Street of Malta’s Capital City. LovinMalta crew are on standby filming the reactions of people.
The very moment he was patched to a microphone and holding the chart, two women run to him hugging him! It was the best thing that could ever happen to give Chris the courage to stand in that cold & windy afternoon. Not many minutes pass by when more and more people approached him with warmth; people of all genders, nationalities, ages and sexual orientations came to hug him.
Chris was in tears. People with HIV who watched the video cried too. They were tears of joy, tears of hope that one day the stigma will be eliminated once and for all here in Malta. Unfortunately, this hope can easily be shattered if the Government doesn’t change the current situation; It is unsustainable and undignifying, to say the least.