— Health

For HIV/AIDS Survivors, COVID-19 Reawakened Old Trauma—And Renewed Calls for Change

For some of those who survived or otherwise had their lives irrevocably changed by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 has been particularly challenging—those with HIV/AIDS may be at greater risk for severe conditions connected to infection with the coronavirus, and people with weakened immune systems may not get the same level of protection from vaccination as others. Over the last two months, TIME has spoken with HIV/AIDS survivors about their experiences with that epidemic and with COVID-19 and about the historical parallels between the two outbreaks. Their stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gina Brown

Brown, 55, lives in New Orleans and is the Community Engagement Manager for the Southern AIDS Coalition, promoting access and care. She tested positive for HIV on April 4, 1994, while she was pregnant with her daughter. At the beginning of HIV, what little was said about it was misinformation. I thought I was the first woman in the world with HIV. I didn’t know any other woman who was living with HIV at that time. Everything was geared towards gay men or focused on IV drug use, promiscuity, sex work, certain behaviors. People didn’t talk about contracting HIV in a monogamous relationship. The same with COVID, and it came from the top. With

COVID, we heard misinformation from President Trump. “If you’re not sick, you don’t have to wear a mask.” Well, everyone should be wearing a mask! With HIV, misinformation came from legislators, and President [Reagan] was just silent. Jourdan BarnesGina Brown is the Community Engagement Manager for the Southern AIDS Coalition, promoting access and care. The isolation of COVID-19 reminded me of HIV, although the isolation from HIV was self-imposed. Both illnesses cause you to look at your fellow man as if they are a disease. My cousin, who was in his 20s, died from HIV in the 1980s. Generally, if somebody is dying, you go, kiss them, and tell them goodbye in our family. Nobody did that.

I thought I would die the first year of my diagnosis. I only told my mom, my two sisters, and my children’s father. I started really isolating myself, not hanging out with my friends; I felt paralyzed when the word “HIV” was said, that they’d look at me and see that I had HIV. In 1994, when I had my daughter, no one ever came to my room in the hospital. They put my food outside my door, and I had to bring the tray in myself.That also reminds me of COVID because marginalized people always bear the brunt—and they become the culprit. When people talked about HIV, they would talk about Black gay men, Black trans women, and Black women in a really negative light. And with COVID, people would say Black people die because they’re fat and they have diabetes. That wasn’t the story for everybody. People I know who died from COVID were essential workers—working at grocery stores, fast food places, at an HIV service organization.

Katie Axon

Katie Axon is a 25-year-old junior programmer who enjoys listening to music, podcasting and theatre. She is kind and giving, but can also be very rude and a bit greedy.She is an Australian Christian. She has a degree in computing. She is obsessed with bottled water.

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