A Conversation with Ken Monteith


A conversation with Ken Monteith, Executive director of Cocq-Sida (Coalition des Organismes Communautaires Québécois de Lutte contre le SIDA), on HIV-AIDS Activism, the Denver Principles, the Swiss Statement, how activism changed the ways science is done, the different eras of HIV treatment, and on how AIDS can be eradicated if the Global Fund is properly funded. Throughout the importance of the message, Undetectable= Untransmittable, is underlined and re-iterated. Ken also runs a superb blog in which personal and political issues, not always on HIV/AIDS, intersect. It can be accessed here: talktothehump.blogspot.com/

The conversation can be listened to on the player above. One of the most interesting parts of it is how Ken distinguishes different eras by the message one received alongside the diagnosis: Until ´96, one was told the diagnosis was a death sentence and the work of HIV/AIDS organisations was to push for research and treatment, and to accompany people to ensure a little dignity at the end of their lives.

From 96, you were told you´re going to live. You have a complicated medical regime to follow but you must do it. A lot of awful things happened at that time. Long-term side-effects of which lipodystrophy is but an example.  The reaction of the medical community at the time was not very sympathetic: ´’Yes, it´s tough.  But it’s working, you’re alive’.   Today there’s usually an alternative. And that’s amazing. In developing countries, however, resources are scarce.

The Third Era can be dated to 2008, with retrospective study of a lot of other studies in Switzerland, The Swiss Statement, which demonstrated that a person whose viral load is controlled does not transmit HIV.  Public Health Authorities squelched that message by saying we’re not ready to say that yet. And the circulation of the message of The Swiss Statement is a marker of how effective AIDS activism can be: The Prevention Access Campaign in New York came up with U=U. Undetectable=Untransmittable.  As long as we control our virus we’re not going to transmit it to anyone else. And that knowledge changes a life.


Ken is 59, I´m 57. Everyone of our generation had their lives transformed by HJIV/AIDS, certainly in Montreal, where we both lived, either by becoming infected ourselves or by having so many of our loved ones suffer through that process of rejection, exclusion, lack of treatment and lack of care; the fear the virus engendered in those years. The image below is of myself with Ken last year in Paris, where I had the privilege of joining him in a commemoration of fallen loved ones which Ken has made a personal ritual whenever he´s in Paris.

ken and jose

José Arroyo

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