Paul Toh, 32, founder, APN+ (Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS)
I am out in Thailand as an HIV-positive gay man. I’ve been positive for 11 years, and I spoke as a PWA at the International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver in 1996. My family and most of my friends know about my status and have been very supportive.
I first tested because my boyfriend, a doctor, came down with the virus. I felt lost when I found out. But life goes on, and I know now that it’s not how long one lives that matters, but how well. I told myself at first that if I have eight years, I will make full use of them, and if I have 10, I will be thankful to God. Well, God has been very merciful because I am in my 11th year of infection and still asymptomatic -- because I am fortunate enough to get antiretrovirals from a hospital in Bangkok and sometimes one in Sydney, Australia, unlike my positive Thai brothers and sisters.
I’m on my third cocktail -- indinavir, ritonavir, nevirapine, and ddI -- and I pray that the virus does not grow resistant. In Asia, available and easy access to treatment is the key to survival and what every PWA support group fights for. I have been involved in the recent push to enforce compulsory licensing in Thailand so we can have ddI at affordable prices. If we feel that AIDS is a treatable disease, but not a curable one, then why are we Asians with HIV discriminated against in terms of the basic human right to be treated? Every day, I see friends and activists falling ill and eventually dying. Every day. The developed world needs to start helping us, to ensure the continuity of our activism, to provide a better quality of life for us and simply to save our lives.
I’m an activist at heart. HIV has changed my perspective toward life. I treasure love and friendship more than other attributes like sex or money. I started the first PWA network in Asia, called APN+, in February 1994, with 40 other PWAs from eight Asian Pacific countries. Then we went through all the NGOs and medical centers in the region in search of our fellow PWAs. Now APN+ is one of the world’s most progressive HIV networks, reaching thousands of PWAs -- most of whom are not out to anyone else. Today I work for the UNAIDS Asia Pacific Intercountry Team, here in Bangkok. I believe in building a global PWA community. I started an e-mail discussion forum, PWA Net. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and register.