WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

We are the champions… of anti-HIV drug cuts

30 October, 2018

Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

THE new biopic of Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody, has been lambasted by critics for what they say is a sanitised look at his life and the role his sexuality had in shaping people’s response to his talent.

So it was refreshing to see at the world premiere of the film in London this week the brilliant direct action group Act Up using the purple carpet (it was purple, not red…) as a stage for a stunt to raise awareness of the severe pressure HIV and Aids treatment is under as the NHS faces swingeing budget cuts.

Act Up is a group of campaigners who combine gusto, guts and sheer audacity in fighting for their cause – a commitment to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, along with the broader inequalities and injustices that perpetuate it.

Jarek Kubiak, a 34-year-old activist, has been living with HIV since 2007 and has been involved with Act Up since 2014.

“We chose to use the premiere as a platform for highlighting the extreme pressure that NHS sexual health services are under, due to cuts delivered by the Tories,” he says.

“Freddie Mercury was and is a prominent queer icon and one of the victims of the Aids epidemic. Yet those aspects of his life were whitewashed from the biopic, causing controversy and misinformation. We wanted to remind everyone that he was a queer HIV+ migrant, and reclaim his legacy for global LGBTQ+ movement. From the moment we invaded the purple carpet we heard positive reactions from the fans gathered around us, cheers and clapping, people taking pictures – we felt true support to our cause. Even the security was very professional and respectful to our action.”

Act Up campaigns for easily accessible treatment for all people, in all countries – and this not only includes medication, but mental and social health services, too.

As Act Up points out, sexual health clinics are being closed – three in the last year in London alone – causing delays in access to essential treatments for HIV, Hepatitis C and other STIs.

Current NHS guidelines only allow HepC treatment when someone’s health deteriorates so their life is in danger, while the ground-breaking treatment Pre Exposure Prophylaxis against HIV, is still not available freely on NHS in England, despite its proven effectiveness.

“We want NHS access to PreP, HIV, and HepC medication for all in need,” adds Jarek.

“We want wide and fast access to sexual health and mental health services for all in need. We want to stop the unethical, hostile treatment of migrants in need of health care.”

And he thinks Freddie would have looked kindly on their cause.

“I truly believe that Freddie would be proud, and, if he had lived and had access to the treatment like we have today, would join our cause and make his voice heard. We need more HIV/Aids role models and ambassadors to fight the ongoing strong stigma that HIV+ people experience daily. I can only hope we made him proud last night, wherever he is.”

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