Simple Truth


by David Waggoner

Sometimes we become weighed down by the complexities of life, and, in particular, the intricate challenges we face as we navigate life with HIV/AIDS. It’s a falsity though to think that the solutions to these challenges have to always be equally complex. After all, a knot is an almost impenetrable bundle until we unravel it into two plain laces.

Take, for example, Undetectable=Untransmissible, or U=U. Advocates, led by Bruce Richman and Prevention Access Campaign, took the complex science around suppressed viral load and sustained treatment and winnowed it down to a slogan that simply and clearly tells everyone that staying on top of one’s health is an act of self-empowerment. The slogan simply and clearly conveys the fact that positive bodies (no matter one’s viral load) are not receptacles for society’s animus. And the slogan also reminds that Treatment is Prevention. The media was not telling it straight, and neither were physicians—the messaging from these quarters could have been so simple, and destigmatizing, but it became unnecessarily clouded and overly cautious.

Simplification is often the best solution.

As a Representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, Brian Sims faces complex problems all the time, and one of his strengths is his straightforward leadership. He advocates for gender pay equity with stunning directness, for example. And I like the fact that he wants to make everything related to accessing HIV prevention tools easier. Of course, making everything easier is hard work. But it’s a goal we should strive for.

When Editor at Large Chip Alfred interviewed the Democratic representative for this month’s cover story feature, Sims stated, “I want PEP and PrEP as readily available as birth control. When my doctor talks to me during an intake about my sex life and the precautions I’m taking or not taking, I want him to make a risk assessment that says, ‘Brian, you might want to consider going on PrEP.’ I want it to be that simple.” And it really should be.

Yes, we are ready for “simple.” And I am talking about more than simplifying regimens, though if you are interested Chael Needle shares some updates from ViiV Healthcare in Treatment Horizons. No, I am talking about simplicity in all aspects of our lives. Activists like David Mixner, who was interviewed by Mel Baker for this issue, know the importance of simplicity as well. He has a simple message: Stick by your principles! Sharen I. Duke, Executive Director and CEO of Alliance for Positive Change, talked to Arts Editor Alina Oswald about graduates of the organization’s peer education program, who embody the mission of the organization: “feel better, live better and do better.” Quite simply, Duke has found, their clients pay it forward. Guest columnist Josué E. Hernández learned to say the most difficult words for some who are newly diagnosed: “I am HIV-positive.” But when he did say that simple declaration, his advocacy became richer. He started to fully model the empowerment he wanted others to experience, as well.

As the British poet William Wordsworth said, “How many undervalue the power of simplicity! But it is the real key to the heart.” I encourage all of us in the HIV community to embrace simplicity—not as a denial of the complex challenges we face, but as a way to nurture ourselves in the best way that we can. Tell yourself what you need to hear—and don’t overthink it!

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.