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Summer 2024 - Vaccines

HIV: A Patient’s Perspective

As a woman and activist living with HIV/AIDS, Maria Mejia’s mission is to give hope to the hopeless and send the message that she is far more than just a condition.

As a woman and activist living with HIV/AIDS, Maria Mejia’s mission is to give hope to the hopeless and send the message that she is far more than just a condition. She is currently the co-chair of the Women and Minorities Outreach for the Dab the AIDS BEAR project; an ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign; The Stigma Project; The Well Project; and the Greater than AIDS Empowered campaign. Maria is also co-author of From a Warrior’s Passion and Pain, a real-life account of her decades-long battle with HIV/AIDS. She lives in Florida with her wife, Lisa. 

BSTQ: When were you diagnosed with HIV?

Maria: I was infected at age 16 and diagnosed in 1991 at the age of 18. After 10 years of refusing treatment, I was diagnosed with AIDS and uterine cancer. I was given one month to live if I didn’t start my medications. I am so glad I chose to live because I love life. 

BSTQ: What do you think is the biggest misconception about living with HIV/AIDS?

Maria: That it is a guaranteed death sentence and that your life is over and no one will ever love you with this condition. The truth is you can live a full life with HIV/AIDS if you follow your treatment plan and do not let a virus define you.

BSTQ: How can we reduce the stigma around HIV/AIDS?

Maria: A big part of the reason I serve as an activist and educator is to encourage people to come out of the HIV/AIDS closet. The more we come out and show our faces with no shame, the more we humanize this condition. 

BSTQ: What do you want girls and women to understand about HIV?

Maria: I want them to understand that there is life after an HIV or AIDS diagnosis. I want them to remember to love themselves, follow their treatment plan and live a very healthy lifestyle. If there is any personal experience I can share it is that even on my hardest days, I know my spirit is stronger than my body. I am a very spiritual human being, and this helps me keep going.

BSTQ: What medications, treatments and/or studies are positively impacting the HIV community now?

Maria: As a 35-year long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS, I never thought I would see the day with so many options of medication, because I come from a time when we had nothing but a death sentence. I never thought I would see the day when we could take medications in small dosages that actually save lives and make HIV undetectable so it cannot pass on to sexual partners or babies who are breastfeeding. These breakthroughs make me feel the cure is coming very soon and there is renewed hope. At this point, though, I will be content with any treatment that oppresses the virus, like the long-term injectables currently available. This is such a huge advancement in the history of HIV and AIDS.

BSTQ: As you look back on your journey, what are you most proud of?

Maria: I am proud of many things. I am proud of all the people who I have helped since my own diagnosis. I continue to advocate and fight against any form of discrimination as an international human rights activist and a very proud member of The Well Project, a global women’s organization. As we know, there are very few organizations that cater specifically to women and girls who are living with HIV, so that is very near and dear to my heart. I am also very proud of being the founder of the two largest international support groups for people living with HIV or affected by it. My work has helped pass legislation for the LGBTQI community’s HIV policies in the state of Florida. And most importantly, I’m proud that I’ve been able to lead by example and show those who are starting this journey and living in the shadows of stigma that I will fight for them, that I will continue to show my face to fight against the shame and stigma. I want to continue being the voice that says you cannot only survive but thrive.

BSTQ: What’s next for you?

Maria: Personally, to be a better human being every day, to continue to fight for human rights and to live a healthy and productive life. My mission is still to continue to give hope to the hopeless. Professionally, there’s a lot of different things I’m involved in as I continue to grow and get more seasoned as an activist, which is the core of who I am. I am a fighter.

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.