Queer activist Christian Vincent tested positive to HIV in 2014.
He’d been testing regularly. To suddenly get a positive result came as a shock to Vincent.
“Everything I knew about myself, every bit of confidence I had, was ripped out of my body…” explains Vincent, speaking to Lovin Malta. “I just felt like I was in this vessel, transporting me through time. It was really uncomfortable.”
Having grown up in Denmark, and studied in Copenhagen, since his diagnosis Vincent has been on a bit of a journey – living and working in Amsterdam for a while, finding his voice to educate people about HIV, and tackling the stigma associated with the virus.
Vincent is currently spending time in Malta, and has been working with local organisation Allied Rainbow Communities to help generate some conversations around HIV.
“Malta is a beautiful island, and I’m fascinated by it…” says Vincent. “From the sites, to the architecture – I’m very fond of it.”
But what has surprised Vincent during his time on Malta is the lack of infrastructure focused on HIV.
“If someone tests positive for HIV, you need to make sure you get treatment as fast as possible…” Vincent explains to Lovin Malta. “I was informed that the gap between getting a result in Malta to the point of getting more information is about six weeks. I’m no doctor, but as a human being, six weeks is a long time to wonder about yourself.”
“I’ve also learned that here in Malta, there’s no official way to get PrEP…” says Vincent. “There’s also currently a month-long waiting list to get tested for HIV anonymously. Treatment is not personalised, with Combivir and Kaletra being used even though they have very strong side effects for most people. And, ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ is practically unheard of.”
Beyond the basics of prevention, testing, and treatment, Vincent is continuing to focus the conversation on removing any stigma associated with the virus.
“As an LGBTQ person, talk to someone you know who is HIV positive…” says Vincent. “We have anonymity on apps now, so don’t just block people, but talk to them. Read up on it. I find it is your duty as part of the community to be informed.”
“We are moving forward…” says Vincent. “There is a European agreement to eradicate AIDS by 2030. But, specifically for Malta, you should work on having more accessible information. If there isn’t anonymous free testing available, get anonymous free testing available, however it’s done. Make sure the medication is up to date, and that it’s not just one way of treating people, but a treatment that’s right for that person.”
“Christian is finally giving a face to people living with HIV here in Malta..” says Clayton Mercieca – Community Manager with Allied Rainbow Communities. “This is a first for Malta. People have read articles and anonymous interviews from time to time, but the stigma on people with HIV didn’t really diminish because there was no familiarity linked to it. Since Christian spoke the first time, people have approached both himself and our organisation opening up about their situation. Some of them haven’t dated since they’ve been diagnosed because they were too afraid to get to the moment of intimacy with their partners – for fear of rejection.
“With Christian’s courage, we are finally breaking down the walls…” continues Mercieca. “The road ahead is long and winding, but at least we’ve started the journey to increase awareness, empower those who are living with HIV, and to advocate for better treatment.”
Main Photo Credit: Linelle Deunk