Words by Madeline Mcgrath

While we watch the world crying, and praising It’s a Sin we need to note that this is not a fictional story but the lives of real people, and some are still living that cruel life even in 2021. It’s A Sin, is no doubt a notable piece that is thought-provoking, but why did the UK take so long to acknowledge the HIV and AIDS pandemic. It’s a Sin is not a fictional, nor a complete story. It follows the characters through the cruelties of the AIDS pandemic in ’80s London as they live through issues still faced in 2021. It’s a Sin is often described as emotional and thought-provoking. Why did it take the UK so long to acknowledge the HIV & AIDS pandemic? Why are people of marginalised races, sexualities, and genders invisibilised? What has still not changed in the forty years since the story’s starting point?

Dr Simon Watney, who lived through the pandemic in the ‘80s provided this commentary:  “It’s A Sin is having such an impact not because it’s any good but simply because it’s the first public acknowledgement in this country that the epidemic ever happened in the first place. I suspect that any 5-hour fictional narrative would have triggered those same long pent-up memories of grief and loss and anger.” 

It’s a sin that HIV education isn’t available to everyone

Characters present different symptoms because HIV and AIDS does not directly kill you, it suppresses your immune system until you are unable to fight even common infections. 

HIV enters your white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting germs such as Coronavirus. The virus gets inside the cell and becomes a part of it preventing it from fighting infections. AIDS is diagnosed when your CD4 count (a specific white blood cell)  is extremely low.

It’s a sin that HIV/AIDS continue to be thought of as a “gay disease”

It’s a Sin follows the sexual exploits of everyone but Jill, the only female main character. We have to wonder why the female character, the black –  female – character was sexually repressed in favour of a caretaker role. This is considering that some of the male characters identify as bisexual and thus have sex with women, but there is no mention of the impact on women. This is a chronic and harmful issue not only is it stigmatizing the disease as only a gay problem for the gay community but it stops women from understanding their risk.

By not understanding their risk, women are more at risk for late diagnosis which means increased health risk, early death and more transmission

Late diagnosis means your white blood cell count is dangerously low. On average a person lives for three to five years undiagnosed. People living with HIV are the most infectious in the first few months after being infected. It’s common to have no symptoms immediately after infection. 

People of colour and immigrants are the most at risk for late detection. Heterosexual men are also at high risk. The fear of being associated with the gay disease killed people and continues to kill people of all genders and sexual orientations. 

SPOILER It’s again interesting the series chose to exclude the people of colour from the martyr character, considering that the majority of people dying from AIDS are people of colour in lower-income countries. The show continues the idea that only white gay men die from AIDS which has always been far from the truth. 

It’s a sin that AIDS is 100% preventable but people are still dying

AIDS is the syndrome resulting from HIV. By treating HIV we can prevent AIDS. Antiretroviral treatment (ART) protects white blood cells from the virus, preventing sickness and transmission. Despite the success of this treatment, the cost of the drug continues to rise as pharmaceutical companies profit. Individuals and governments have no choice but to pay unethical and ridiculous prices. 12.6 million people are still waiting for treatment, dying in horrible and painful ways just like the characters on It’s a Sin. 

SPOILER: In It’s a Sin, we witnessed what happens when someone is afraid and out of options. Richie avoids treatment, and then he continued to have unprotected sex despite his status, killing multiple people.

Like characters in It’s a Sin, shame keeps people from believing they deserve treatment, love and affection. The lack of access to care compounds these feelings and it gives strength to the disease. The sex you love doesn’t have to kill you, it’s not a sin and everyone deserves the love and compassion to believe that. 

Pre Exposure – PrEP, condoms and testing 

It’s a sin that we have inadequate testing

The UK has many free clinics where you can get tested and there are even opportunities to use take-home tests. While many countries have adopted free testing and treatment for citizens, they often leave out important sectors of migrants and the disadvantaged causing an increased risk for everyone. In the UK undocumented migrants have difficulties registering with a GP and understanding NHS entitlement rules. Globally 7.1 million people still need access to HIV testing.

It’s a sin that not everyone had access to preventative medication

PrEP is a tablet taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. Taking PrEP blocks HIV from entering your cells even if exposed. Studies have shown no transmission when PrEP is taken correctly. Studies by the WHO shows the effectiveness of PrEP in reducing HIV transmission among heterosexual couples, men who have sex with men, transgender women, high-risk heterosexual couples, and people who inject drugs. 

It’s a Sin celebrates the joy of a sex life, but it’s missing one important element. A joyful sex life needs the proper conditions to be healthy. As bars open back up, in the UK in June, we will all be feeling the spring fever. 

Post Exposure – PEP- NOT the HIV Emergency Option

PEP is a combination of HIV drugs that can stop the virus from entering white blood cells. It is meant for emergency use when PrEP and/or condom use fails. PEP must be taken within 72 hours, and ideally should be taken within 24 hours. PEP is not guaranteed protection.

The Terrance Higgins Trust provides resources to find free condoms, education, and sites for receiving PrEP and PEP. 

It’s a Sin that we do not have enough clean needle programs

A survey from Public Health England in 2016 found less than half 54% of people in the UK do not have adequate needles. Sharing used needles allows for the transmission of HIV. Some pharmacies issue basic needle packs and accept used products. Contact your pharmacy or the NHS  helpline for free confidential service (call 111.) Very Well Mind provides resources for a variety of countries. 

It’s a sin that we could eliminate HIV & AIDS but we don’t

HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Gender inequalities, inaccessible services, and sexual violence increase women’s vulnerability. 15% of mothers are still unable to receive treatment to prevent transmission. Children account for 1.8 million people living with HIV. 95,000 children died from AIDS-related deaths in 2019. Most of these people are living in lower-income countries with few resources. 

It’s a sin that we allow 700,000 people to die from AIDS in 2019

Testing and treatment are so effective we could eliminate the virus, but instead we allow 700,000 people to die of a painful and horrible disease. It’s a Sin. 

Though the media is quick to clap for change we must wonder if anything has really happened or if this is just keyboard activism. From Simon “Dr Joseph Sonnabend [recently] died here in England …. Nobody on the planet played a more central role in the invention and promotion of Safer Sex, yet for all the supposedly earnest concern suddenly appearing out of nowhere in the British mass media after decades of indifference, and triggered by It’s A Sin, Joe’s death went entirely unnoticed in the British national media, unlike the USA where there were long obituaries in many papers including the New York Times. So much for the real interest in AIDS on the part of British journalists beyond the gay press.”

He continues: “There has been far less change in this country than most people prefer to imagine, as even a cursory glance at the front pages of the newspapers on sale in any newsagent in the land on any day of the week will alas regularly confirm.” 

This is supported by figures that show that one in five people diagnosed reported being excluded from family events because of their HIV status in the UK. 

The greed of corporations keeps medication from those who need it, and the shame keeps us from demanding change. Just like in the 80s the world is ok with who is dying, in the 80s it was gay men, now it is people of colour in low-income countries.  Many are afraid of standing up and demanding change because of stigmas and shame. Shame continues to surround the disease and it’s allowing HIV to continue to kill. 

Shame is killing our women. Shame is killing our children. Shame is killing our people. It’s a sin and it can be stopped the moment we start caring enough to demand it. 

Categories: Features

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