The voices of those who are taking PrEP on Il Fatto Giorno

Only 3600 people in Italy benefit from PrEP after STD testing, the pre-exposure prophylactic Test and therapy for HIV disease, which allows you to avoid contagion in case of contact with the virus. At the same time, waiting for it to become free in Italy after the green light from the Prices and Reimbursement Committee of the STD Medicines Agency, ilfattoquotidiano. Met some of them and collected their anonymous testimonies to understand how they started this journey and with what difficulties.

  • M.C., 37 years old, Naples:

“No one talks about HIV anymore.” This quote reflects a sentiment echoed by many. “I decided to undergo PrEP because it is a protocol that involves periodic tests every three months.” The individual emphasises the importance of regular STD testing for control and prevention. However, they express frustration with the healthcare system: “There is chaos in the hospitals.” Clinic hours change without notice, reservations are not always available, and the CUP often lacks information.

Additionally, the cost of prevention is a concern. “Prophylaxis costs a lot, 60 euros for 30 tablets.” Many cannot afford this expense, and awareness about its benefits is lacking. “Only some cities are at the forefront.” There’s a lack of educational initiatives and discussions surrounding HIV.

  • G.L., 29 years old, Bologna:

“This is state homophobia,” says G.L., who decided to undertake PrEP in February 2022. After having had a protected relationship with a boy who later discovered he was HIV positive during some medical checks. G.L. went to the Infectious Diseases department of the Sant’Orsola hospital for tests to avoid HIV infection and check for other sexually transmitted infections. In both cycles of tests for HIV, G.L. STD tested negative but positive for gonorrhoea.

G.L. was immediately provided with the necessary treatment. Faced with the poor social visibility of the problem, G.L. gets heated. Speaking of “state homophobia,” G.L. notes the lack of discussion leading to a lack of STD information on the topic. This results in people not knowing about the existence of PrEP at all and thus cannot use it. Among those who know of the existence of prevention, G.L. identifies three reasons why people decide not to participate: the cost, the stigma associated with using PrEP, and the ignorance regarding prophylaxis and its controls.

  • F.L., 34 years old, Milan:

“Are you sure that then you might as well not have HIV?” asks F.L. He expresses satisfaction with the path taken, which involves a process aimed at making the individual responsible. Vaccinations, often neither compulsory nor subsidised but necessary, are offered free. An infectious test assists the STD disease specialist supports the individual, following their entire history and conducting regular HIV tests to ensure awareness of their health status. STD Tests for syphilis, gonorrhoea, papilloma, etc., are conducted regularly.

Regarding the cost of therapy, F.L. states, “I’m sure that we would all be willing to spend two euros a day for a pill that guarantees immunity from HIV.” However, he shares doubts about the lack of visibility. Many people think that the STD information, often entrusted only to LGBTQ+ associations, is simple “propaganda” to clear an unruly lifestyle.

In the gay environment, those on PrEP are often mistaken for individuals who engage in unprotected sex frequently. F.L. recounts a friend’s experience of having unprotected sex with someone from a dating app. He did it without being upset because he trusted the person. However, neither of them gets STD tested regularly. This scepticism towards PrEP users creates a barrier.

  • M.V., 48 years old:

“If you use PrEP, you’re a whore” – “In the heterosexual world until recently, no one knew about the existence of PrEP, while among us gays, there is the commonplace that if you use it, you’re a bitch. When you meet someone and say you’re on PrEP, the reaction is more often than not disgusting.” Usually, the main objection is that “it hurts, and then there are many illnesses. At that point, I replied: ‘Exclude the most serious event’ while there is a cure for other diseases. Furthermore, I am tested every three months, how about you?” He concludes, “In reality, the message is to preserve yourself, defend yourself from HIV, and defend yourself, but there is still too much ignorance.”

  • S., 28 years old, Bologna:

“Does the State care that its citizens are also sexual animals? Not for me” – “I was only on PrEP for a year, then I stopped simply because studying full time and not having a job, I couldn’t afford it anymore. But even just being aware of the protection given by PrEP made me feel calm, took away my feelings of guilt and made me fully enjoy sexuality, which too often is given little or no importance. Furthermore, by protecting myself, I acted as a safety net for others. On Grindr (an app for dating gay men, ed.), there is the possibility of indicating that you are on PrEP, and I immediately raised eyebrows because ‘eh, but there are other STD diseases!’. Oh well, yes, thank you, they are there, but HIV and gonorrhoea are not at the same level of impact on life; HIV is forever.”

Awareness and information:

These keywords concern everything that has to do with people’s health. However, they are even more important when discussing infectious diseases, especially sexually transmitted ones. Today is World AIDS Day, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Even though treatments have progressed considerably and the majority of HIV-positive women and men can lead a normal life, the critical issues should not be underestimated; on the other hand, too often, the stigma towards those with this disease is alive in society.

Cinema can be a good starting point for reflection: many directors have spoken delicately and objectively about HIV, describing the daily lives of people who could be mothers, fathers, friends or sisters to us. Harper’s Bazaar has chosen six films to watch on this day. Travelling is an opportunity to face your fears and emotions and find an old love again before it’s too late. 1985 is shot entirely in black and white, a film that manages to convey the atmosphere of a period of light and shadow like that of forty years ago in a world devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

  • 1985 (2018), directed by Yen Tan

Adam is a young man who freely lives his homosexuality in New York in the 1980s, far from the biased and conservative Texas he thinks he has left behind. Things soon change when he discovers that he is HIV positive: having reached a terminal stage, Adam decides to return to Dallas to try to reconnect with his family. 

  • Love for Life (2011), directed by Gu Changwei

The life of a small village in China is shaken by the arrival of AIDS due to transfusions of infected blood. The Zhao family faces the emergency on the front line by creating a treatment centre, taking into account that their son, De Yi, has also fallen ill. De Yi falls in love with Qin Qin, another patient with whom he chooses to share his destiny. The two choose to live a story in the open, indifferent to people’s chatter and aware that nothing is certain about the future – both are already married in a society with little tolerance for relationships outside of marriage. Love for Life is an excellent film: intense without being pietistic; there is no shortage of comic scenes and others that leave room for harsh reality.

  • About Women (1995), directed by Herbert Ross

The condition of the disease from an entirely female point of view is portrayed in “About Women.” Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, and Mary-Louise Parker, champions of American cinema, play the equally unforgettable protagonists. Robin, Holly, and Jane couldn’t be more different in character, background, and desires. Between one adventure and another across the United States, they become friends. However, there’s a twist – Robin is increasingly ill with AIDS. Illness makes this unlikely trio increasingly close-knit. Holly and Jane take care of their friend until the end. They create a solidarity network filled with irony and gratitude towards life.

  • The Hours (2002), directed by Stephen Daldry

Three stories unfold across different temporal planes but intertwine seamlessly. Virginia Woolf, while writing Mrs. Dalloway, represents one narrative thread. Another follows the life of a 1950s housewife contemplating suicide. The third revolves around a poet’s efforts to organise a party for a homosexual and HIV-positive friend.

Woolf’s character links Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan, threading their lives together like a symphony. Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore deliver captivating performances, portraying beautiful and authentic characters. Ed Harris skillfully captures the nuances of the STD disease, portraying a spectrum of emotions from joy to profound physical and emotional pain.

Clarissa will say in the name of friendship, “We always stay alive for someone else”.

  • Positive – 40 years in Italy (2021), directed by Alessandro Redaelli

The title of this STD film is clear: forty years have passed since the spread of AIDS in our country. So Daria, Simone, Daphne and Gabriele decide to come out to tell their stories of HIV-positive people; every day, they are aware of the stigma that this disease still carries with it, but they have chosen to face the judgment of others head-on. Positive is a documentary worth seeing because only through STD testimonies can public awareness be raised and correct prevention carried out: not a witch hunt, but a path of dialogue and inclusion. There are also interviews with those who experienced those fateful eighties, from Oliviero Toscani to Loredana Berté.

  • Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau (2016), directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau

Awarded in 2016 at the Berlin Film Festival as the best LGBTQA+ film, Ducastel and Martineau’s film is very particular. The first scene is set at 4:27 in the morning in a Parisian cruising club. The last scene, “The Hands Will Move,” is an hour and a half later. The attraction between Théo and Hugo is intense. They soon realise they didn’t use precautions for their sexual relationship despite Hugo being HIV positive with an undetectable load. Théo may have contracted HIV. The film portrays the emotions of potential love and the fear of illness. It’s a painful, explicit, realistic depiction of complex human nature.

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