David Patient, one of the longest-documented survivors of HIV infection, feels the solution to the problem of stigmatization and representation of HIV-infected people needs to be initiated at the grass roots level within South Africa.
"The odd thing is that if every HIV-positive person stood up in [South Africa] and 'got counted,' our numbers would exceed the total number of people who voted for our current government, myself included," said Patient. "We could be the single largest lobby group in the country with a membership of anywhere from 5 to 6 million people. Maybe at some point, we will turn our wishbone mindset into a back bone of action."
While the site serves to connect and validate a stigmatized community, its success also exposes the growing population of South Africans infected with HIV.
Today, Sassman is having trouble funding The Positive Connection. Advertisers seem reluctant to collaborate with Sassman, necessitating that he support the site with his own earnings. He recently upgraded his site to support the volume of members by using his credit card that is supported by his day job. "I hope that the media will do more to encourage awareness everywhere," he said.
And it seems his wish is gradually coming true. Since its start three years ago, more STD, HIV and AIDS-related dating sites have popped up -- including Date Positive.net, PositiveSingles.com and Pozmatch.com, all with the hope of helping people not only survive the virus but live with it.
However, the CDC feels it is important to note that an HIV patient who has unprotected sex could still be put at risk for acquiring either an additional strain or a drug resistant strain of HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.
The difference Sassman's site has made in connecting and de-stigmatizing those living with HIV and AIDS is indisputable. Ultimately, the romantic prospect from South Africa won over Mary's heart, and it looks as though they have been successful in transferring the word "positive" from their diagnoses to the outlook of their relationship.
David Patient sums it up on Sassman's Web site, saying, "AIDS is not a death sentence. AIDS is a call to aliveness. I think of my infection as a second chance to start living my life, my way and on my terms."