A group of Australians with HIV will tell their stories on ABC’s You Can’t Ask That this week to shed light on what it’s really like to live with HIV.
The fascinating show allows people from marginalised or misunderstood communities to answer anonymous questions from the public in their own words. Some questions are ignorant, some are well-meaning, and many are both.
One of the Australians with HIV to feature in the upcoming episode is David, who in the late 1980s was manager of an upmarket jazz club in inner-city Sydney.
When he went to visit a sick friend in hospital one day, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw. His friend was one of many people who were dying of AIDS.
“As you’re going in, there were people in bed after bed after bed that you knew, that were friends of yours,” he said.
“And there they were dying. You’d see people [aged] 25, 30, dying when they just hadn’t even had a life.”
David too was diagnosed as HIV positive, and was told he would die. However he was determined to survive and signed up for medical trials.
“I made this determination to do anything I could to help medical science find out as much as they could about HIV,” he said.
“And the side effects of all these drug trials in the beginning, they were so toxic, so nasty, so horrible. I was constantly sick.”
David participated in a total of 28 medical trials. They left him partially deaf, and with a rare brain disease that will eventually kill him.
However, his contribution to medical science – along with thousands of others like him – means HIV is no longer a death sentence.
“All these trials… they’ve all led to the research that’s brought us to where we are today. So I have contributed,” he said.
“I’ve done one tiny little bit, but I’ve done my best.”
You Can’t Ask That is now in its fifth season
Andy was born in 1983. He contracted HIV while “living his best life”, travelling the world as a singer on cruise ships.
After his diagnosis in 2017, he learned that he can fully suppress his HIV with medication. This means he can remain healthy and can’t transmit it to anyone else.
Sitting next to David, Andy is visibly moved at hearing the older man’s story.
“I owe my life to the generation that did the trials. And me being alive is wholly because of people like you doing the trials, years ago,” Andy tells David.
“And I’m forever grateful to people like you for that.”
Though medication means HIV is no longer life-threatening, it still carries fear and stigma for many.
Rates of HIV are declining among gay white men in Australia, however they’re on the rise among Indigenous and other culturally diverse gay men, and heterosexuals.
You Can’t Ask That is now in its fifth season, with previous episodes featuring interviews with firefighters, nudists and Australians on the autism spectrum.
The HIV episode of You Can’t Ask That will screen on Wednesday (April 15) on ABC. All previous episodes of the show are available to stream on iView.
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