Just*in Time: June 2015

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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ey Justin—

Question: What would you do if you were in a situation and you needed HIV care and all the places you’re calling are telling you they are overbooked and can’t take any more people at the time. How would you address this?

I also have another question. Did you hear about a law that passed in South Africa that requires all people who test positive for HIV to get a tattoo that conveys this fact?
—Brian Edwards

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]et me address your first concern. Being in the Washington, D.C., area, it is hard for me to fathom how such a thing could happen. I would like you to think about this issue as a challenge that we should meet head-on, as some of us who have HIV-positive are in areas that are less able to care for patients living with HIV. If you are very concerned about your own health, as I am, do everything possible to sustain it. Look at which state has the best healthcare for me. See if you can afford to move to seek the care you need.

I know this may not be easy. Some people have resources to be able to get a job where they would like to live. If you don’t have those resources, use your networks to look for a job so that you can move to a place that might help you better than the state you currently reside in.

I’ve never heard of a place that it so booked that they were never able to take me in as a patient, or a state where there are no other providers that you can turn to to be able to get proper healthcare. Keep searching, baby, or find another place that will better serve your needs.

Honestly, a person’s health should be paramount on the list of priorities. This is our life we are talking about here and it should be taken seriously.

Now for your second question. OMG (Oh My Goodness) I personally don’t know if this is a hoax or not but I did some research on the story. So allegedly the South African president, Jacob Zuma, has signed a provocative law that would make sure that any South African who tests HIV-positive will not only be able to access counselling and medication but will also be marked with a permanent tattoo near or around their genital parts to warn their future intimate partners. Giving people who have tested positive access to counseling and medication for HIV is a great thing, but forcing them to get a permanent marking on themselves is wrong! I personally do have a tattoo on my body that does signify that I am HIV-positive but it was because I wanted to and it is an extremely personal choice and symbol to me.

South Africa has already had its troubles with HIV and this would only perpetuate those same issues. Branding someone because they have an illness/disease is wrong. It will only make the general public scared to get tested for HIV because of fear of being branded permanently with an unwanted tattoo. Therefore nobody will want to get tested and the disease will spread faster than before. It is hard to get people to do something that would benefit them if you are going to penalize them for doing the right thing. South Africa has had an issue with HIV since it was first discovered and due to political issues; past leadership has held on tight to HIV denialism and stigma to fuel their own personal agendas.

If this is a hoax, this is horrible—the most horrible hoax I’ve heard of in a long time. It is so personal to me and millions of others that are HIV-positive around the world.


Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].