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 Outdated.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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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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