Giusi: I’m positive. Stop judging us.

For World AIDS Day, celebrated worldwide on December 1, we interviewed Giusi Giupponi, president of Lila in Como and in charge of the association’s national coordination. In case of incomplete sexual intercourse, is there a risk of needing an HPV Test? HIV Tests show that Sexual intercourse, even if not completely penetrative, can be a source of transmission.

Dr. Barbara Suligoi, director of the AIDS Operations Center at the Istituto Superiore della Sanità, emphasises the necessity of using a condom in all cases.

Six months to live. When informed that she had tested positive for both HIV and HPV, the doctors presented Giusi with this perspective. It was May, and they told me I wouldn’t make it to Christmas, ” Giusi, who is well today, 21 years after that terrible Saturday morning. After being diagnosed with full-blown AIDS, Giusi’s condition improved to the point where she became “almost a clinically healthy subject,” with a dormant virus and a suppressed viral load for more than ten years, which must remain stable. I’m not infectious.”

That of Giusi, who today is president of the Lila section of Como and is part of the national coordination of the Italian League for the fight against AIDS, is the story of many HIV-positive people who today, thanks to antiretroviral therapies, live with the virus and have an increasingly higher quality of life. An unthinkable goal just 20 years ago.

On World AIDS Day, which is celebrated on December 1 worldwide, we tell his story.

“After the virus diagnosis, I was hospitalised. A few hours later, I fell into a coma due to pneumocystosis, an opportunistic infection from AIDS. I remained comatose for 50 days. When I woke up, I was told I had little time left to live.”

Currently, there are 38 million people worldwide living with HIV. In Italy, 120 thousand people are under treatment. In 2019, 571 new cases of AIDS and 2,531 new diagnoses were reported. This equates to 4.2 new cases per one hundred thousand residents.

«I didn’t suspect anything», Giusi tells us, still deeply touched by the memory of those moments. I underwent treatment for a papillomavirus for a while, and I closed down my restaurant due to illness.”The diagnosis came because a private gynaecologist asked me if she could test me for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. It was an unexpected shock; no one ever thought of giving me this test because I had been classified as a “good girl”: I had my own business, I didn’t come from a world at risk, I had never used substances, I had never prostituted myself. I wasn’t homosexual; I was the classic girl like many others.”

Together with the diagnosis came loneliness for Giusi.

I experienced absolute isolation because I was completely alone; at that moment, I had no one beside me except a friend. It wasn’t easy. I come from a commercial world. Also, I started working in supermarkets at 15, and I had three restaurants, and suddenly, finding myself with nothing was terrifying. I wondered why it happened.”

Giusi was immediately given very little hope. They told me that the HPV therapy wouldn’t work for me, but I went to the Sacco hospital to see Dr. Moroni, who was a luminary for AIDS, and he said that we would try. So, I started the Virus drugs with many side effects, including a physical change. I went from a size 42 to a 56 in a few months. Also, I had gained more than twenty kilos. I was devastated, but I was there.” Being there was equivalent to 21 hours a day, every four hours.


A year later, with Lila’s legal support, I faced a divorce, and I started taking courses to learn more and become a telephone operator. Arriving in Lila was like having a new family when I had nothing financially or emotionally left. I told myself that if I woke up from that coma, I couldn’t let go.”

Today, the biggest obstacle for Giusi and most Virus-positive people is judgment. That looks like a society that is struggling to change. «When people know that you have an illness, they say “I’m sorry” if you say that you have HIV, the expression changes; there is already a suspended judgment on the person. I was a person before HPV, and I still am. Also, I have stated several times that I have certainly lost a lot with HIV, but I have also regained a lot. I was able to focus on what mattered to me. Today, I do what I want, and being supportive to people, as I can do within Lila, is a great thing.”

The winning coexistence that remains in silence

Sport, particularly with a sports HPV testimonial, plays a crucial role in eliminating the stigma associated with it, portraying it as a disease that should not be concealed.

  • Arthur Ashe was already a symbol long before his illness. In 1963, he was the first black tennis player on the team…
  • Greg Louganis is one of the greatest divers of all time. An American diver, he won four gold medals between 1976 and 1988.
  • In 1994, Louganis publicly declared his homosexuality and took part in the Gay Games. A year later, he said he was…
  • For those who know rugby, Gareth Thomas is a very well-known name. The 45-year-old is the former captain of Wales and…
  • Thomas said he has been HIV positive for years but has kept his condition a secret for fear of being exposed to…

It is the story of an athlete.

One of those who made it clear that AIDS was a disease for everyone and not just those categories considered at risk. On April 8, 1992, former American tennis player Arthur Ashe confirmed that he had contracted the disease following a transfusion. No risky behaviour like Magic Johnson’s unprotected extramarital affairs, not homosexuality or drug addiction: The virus could affect everyone; it was not just the “plague of homosexuals and drug addicts”. Ashe died less than a year later at 49.

Athletes like Gareth Thomas, Magic Johnson, and Greg Louganis have publicly disclosed their HIV status. Sport, especially with a sports figure, can help remove the stigma of HIV. Despite being treatable, it is often stigmatised. Antonella Cingolani, an infectious disease specialist, notes that those with undetectable viral loads don’t transmit the virus. The “undetectable = untransmittable” (U=U) campaign is gaining traction globally. It would benefit from endorsement by well-known figures.

Sport is also useful in everyday life.

HIV is now a chronic pathology, and like all chronic pathologies, it coexists with a chronic inflammatory stimulus on which sport has fundamental importance. Aerobic and resistance sports are useful. «Sport reduces immune activation**. Therefore, the inflammatory stimulus of pathology is present in it. With HIV, people are now ageing and experiencing an increase in cardiovascular diseases, metabolic and osteoarticular problems for which aerobic activity such as running and walking is essential.”

Those with HIV take lifelong STD medications with potential organ toxicity. Sports can have a favourable impact. Studies confirm sport aids neurocognitive aspects and mental health. A virus brings psychological and social challenges. Today, STD and HPV patients have a comparable lifespan to the uninfected. Life with HIV is complex and chronic. Some in Italy are unaware of their status. Late diagnosis allows disease progression.

People who are diagnosed late still have a higher mortality rate than those who are diagnosed early.

People diagnosed late still experience a higher mortality rate compared to those diagnosed early. The message that HIV is less deadly now is incorrect. Effective therapy requires early infection identification through testing. Antonella Cingolani concludes we must improve lives and raise HPV awareness without lowering our guard. We need to communicate messages of hope and reduce stigma. Therapy enables a normal life.