Wellington PrEP Forum: Get to know the panel
On November 16th, we'll be hosting our first Wellington PrEP forum at S&Ms Cocktail Bar, 176 Cuba St. The night will include a panel of speakers with a range of different experiences relating to PrEP, who will also be taking your questions. We spoke to two of our panelists ahead of the event.
Vaughan is an HIV advocate and a regular spokesperson for people living with HIV, who recently finished a 6 year stint of serving as a Board Member for the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. Vaughan will be on the panel at the PrEP Forum, talking about the role of PrEP in our communities from the perspective of a man living with HIV.
Vaughan, you have been a passionate and engaged advocate for people living with HIV for many years now. Can you tell us about a few of the challenges and celebrations along the way from your perspective?
I contracted HIV and was diagnosed in 2004, having been involved with NZAF since 1986 both as a volunteer and previous staff member. I know how difficult it can be for even the most well-educated and well-meaning of us to make human mistakes and put ourselves at risk. The biggest challenge of living with HIV is the fact that there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding about what it is like to live with the virus, and this ignorance leads to the stigmatisation of people living with HIV. We are invisible within our community and many people live in genuine fear of the consequences of others finding out. It is a sad indictment of the wider community that this still situation exists.
There is much to celebrate with the developments in medication over the years. I only wish they had been available earlier so that our friends could have lived, because their deaths are a loss that many of us still feel deeply. I celebrate that NZ adopted and retained a relatively high level of condom use so that many more of us aren't needing to take medication every day to keep us alive and healthy. I celebrate that I won't die of pneumonia, or get karposi sarcoma or toxoplamosis. I enjoy that a common cold won't endanger my life and if I have sex with someone it's impossible for me to pass on the virus.
You’ve chosen to be on the panel at the Wellington PrEP Forum. Can you share with us why you think it’s an important HIV prevention tool and how people living with HIV might be impacted by the increased take up in PrEP by HIV- guys?
PrEP is an awesome tool to help prevent the spread of HIV, and if I was on it in 2004, I wouldn’t have HIV now. It's vital that people living with HIV are visible and active participants in ending the transmission of HIV and for too long people with the virus have not been recognised for their role in prevention. No one other than those people living with the virus can tell people what it's like ‘from the inside’. We need people to realise that a diagnosis is a serous thing, and although it is something that is now a manageable chronic condition, it's not a bed of roses. Nothing is more powerful than stories of personal lived experience and as part of the forum I want to share the excitement of the new technologies, but also remind people why we want to avoid infection in the first place. Most of all, I want to raise the voice of people living with HIV and get people involved in challenging their own attitudes towards those of us living with the virus.
The uptake of PrEP will help change the dialogue and language about HIV, and that is good for everyone because it will mean people will talk about HIV and become more informed and hopefully we will see a shift in attitude toward people living with the virus. For those people living with HIV who may not have an undetectable viral load, it will provide a massive boost to the way they feel in the world. Living with the virus is hard enough, but having the sense of safety to know that your sexual partner has an extra layer of protection from the virus is a massive step forward.
It’s important for everyone to rememeber that the virus is mostly spread by people who identify as negative. The more people there are taking the right steps to prevent the spread of the virus there are, the better we will all be. Whether we use condoms, PrEP or treatments to eliminate risk doesn't matter, we are all in this together and although we may have different roles, we all have a part to play. I want the virus in my body to die when I do - hopefully of old age and happiness - and I want everyone else to to want the same thing.
I am not the virus, the virus is not me. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed about having HIV. As a member of the queer community that has a global movement to celebrate Pride, then we really need to look at ourselves and ask how real the “pride” can be if we continue to treat people living with HIV as less than equal? We have created an environment where many people don't even feel they can talk about HIV with their best friends, and we need to fix it. Too many of us live in silence and, as a community, we not only need to do everything we can to prevent more people from getting the virus, we must do better job of embracing people who already live with it. That's why I will take part in the forum - I will stand up, I will talk out and I will continue to be counted for as long as it takes for the community to start showing more kindness and a willingness to make it ok for anyone to talk about HIV in their lives because all lives matter, not just the ones without the virus.
Greig owns heaps of cool bars in Wellington. Our favourite is Ivy, the fabulously queer party bar on Cuba St. Greig will take part in the Wellington PrEP Forum as our ‘Guy taking PrEP’.
Greig, you have all your businesses based in Wellington. So you clearly think it’s a cool place to be. Can you tell us what you love about Wellington?
Wellington is a great place to live. Everyone that lives here loves it. That’s pretty cool. It’s a vibrant mini city with all the elements of a big city but without the hassle of a big city. That equates to a great life style. During summer I can walk 10 minutes from my office and jump Oriental Bay and swim in the ocean and be back by 1pm for a meeting with the accountants. Love it.
Everything has changed when it comes to HIV in New Zealand, including the introduction of PrEP. You’re on PrEP and you’ve chosen to be on the panel to talk about it at the forum in Wellington. Can you tell us why?
I have been involved with NZAF over last 8 years since I first opened Ivy, hosting fundraisers and various sponsored events. I’ve made friends with the crew from NZAF. Over this time I have had a few friends become HIV positive. I have seen first-hand the challenges they have faced and overcome. But all that all seems a bit unnecessary now with PrEP. I want to be a leader and help get others onto PrEP. Finally we have a way to end HIV.
If you're interested in learning more about PrEP and are in the Wellington region, we'd love to see you at the forum on November 16th. Join the Facebook event for more details and updates!