We can break the HIV epidemic for good in the next 5 years — but we all have a role to play in it.

A lot of progress has been made in the fight against HIV. Now it's time we talk like it.

It's truly remarkable.

In 2015, if you're HIV-positive and able to access treatment, you can live a life as long and as healthy as someone who's HIV-negative.

Over the past few years, medical advances in HIV treatment and prevention have changed what it means to live with the virus. Heck, now there's even a little blue pill that can prevent it altogether.


HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was.

But, despite huge medical advancements, the stigma and misconceptions around HIV remain as powerful as ever.


The number of times HIV has been contracted through saliva or by contact with a toilet seat is 0. All images from The Stigma Project, used with permission.

The way many of us still talk and think about HIV/AIDS doesn't reflect reality.

Those stereotypes we all hear? Outdated. The myths? They're just that — myths.

HIV has been stigmatized for a long time, and that fear and stigma continues to be a big roadblock to reducing infections and beating the global epidemic.

Negative attitudes and prejudice against HIV make it way less likely for people to get tested, seek treatment, or disclose their status with partners. Public misinformation and fear contribute to an environment that sees HIV in an inaccurate and often insulting light.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, the disease was seen as a punishment for participating in "deviant" behaviors like non-hetero, non-married sex or drugs, and while medicine has advanced, regressive attitudes have yet to catch up.

If we want to get rid of the shame and discrimination around HIV, we have to start with how we talk and write about it.

Specifically, we need to familiarize ourselves with the difference between HIV and AIDS.

HIV does not equal AIDS. Here's a helpful guide from The Stigma Project.

The good news? We're still making a lot of progress on the medical front.

Just this year, Cuba became the first country declared to have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. 17 other countries and territories across the Americas (including the United States!) show they may have done the same.

New global HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000, and AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42% since 2004, according to UNAIDS.

It's great to hear, but we can do even more.


Chelsea Clinton knows. Image by The Stigma Project, used with permission.

World leaders have a plan to get new HIV infections to drop by 89% and AIDS-related deaths by 81% by 2030.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, a fast-track plan has been created to end the epidemic by scaling up approaches to working with specific locations and populations in 30 countries.

"We have bent the trajectory of the epidemic," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. "Now we have five years to break it for good or risk the epidemic rebounding out of control."

We're at a tipping point toward reversing the HIV epidemic — and the next five years will determine if it happens.

UNAIDS reports that if prevention and treatment efforts are scaled up drastically in the 30 countries that account for 89% of new infections worldwide, we have an incredible shot at reversing the epidemic. If not, we're likely to end up with higher rates of new HIV infections than we have today. A lot is riding on the next five years.

"If we invest just $3 dollars a day for each person living with HIV for the next five years, we would break the epidemic for good," said Mr Sidibé. "And we know that each dollar invested will produce a $15 return."

While doctors and the researches are hard at work on the medical side of things, the rest of us could make a huge difference in advancing the cause just by changing the way we talk about HIV and AIDS.

More knowledge and less judgment means approaching HIV and AIDS in a realistic way, without myths and falsehoods keeping us from eradicating it once and for all. It also means we'll all be able to live in a healthier and safer world.

Count me in.

Image by The Stigma Project, used with permission.

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I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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