Martin is a 56 year old Belfast man with a career spanning 36 years in public administration and 20 years volunteer experience with various charities. In 2010, following an admission to hospital with an unrelated infection, Martin was diagnosed with HIV. After a short stay in hospital and successful treatment of the parasitic infection he was discharged to begin attending the GUM clinic as a HIV out-patient. Here, Martin shares his thoughts and some of the key facts about HIV.
“In the UK, nowadays, HIV is a chronic condition, but the stigma originating from the public health ‘Tombstone’ campaign in the 1980’s still exists! HIV+ people continue to experience stigma and discrimination. The stigma around HIV is based on outdated assumptions and a lack of knowledge.
You can imagine then the total despair that descended on me when I learned that I would be living with HIV. I felt my career, my social life, and ability to have any meaningful one-to-one relationships were all over, I would be an outcast. I was in a spiral of despair and in fear of the stigma that an HIV diagnosis brings. Fear of rejection was my constant friend, particularly in the early days. What to do? I quite quickly told my family and trusted friends, I was also able to confide in work colleagues. It was soul destroying and my confidence was shattered. Thankfully being open was the right thing for me, and today I am well adjusted to living with HIV and am supported by my partner, family, friends and work colleagues and of course the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) HIV team who look after my physical and mental well being. Today I am mostly open about my condition and have a zest again for life.
I am on HIV medication, my viral load is undetectable. I have regular access to the medical and nursing team to manage the HIV infection. I have received support and interventions from welfare services, the sexual health team and clinical psychologist. Without this multi-disciplinary support I may not have survived the emotional trauma that comes with an HIV diagnosis. I am also involved with the RVH HIV Service User Forum, where the HIV Health Care professionals are listening and involving HIV patients in delivery of their services.
If diagnosed in good time, and with effective medication, people living with HIV can now live as long as anyone else and will be unlikely to ever develop AIDS. This is because medication is very good at reducing the amount of virus in the body, meaning that the immune system stays strong.
With effective medication, people living with HIV can’t pass on the virus to anyone else This is because HIV medication stops the virus from replicating and can suppress the virus to such low levels that it can no longer be passed on. This is often referred to as being ‘undetectable’, because the level of HIV in the body is so low that the virus can no longer be detected. If someone living with HIV responding well to treatment and has an undetectable viral load – they cannot pass the virus on.
There is a new pill that prevents you from getting HIV. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that you can take daily to protect yourself from HIV. By the end of 2017, PrEP will be available for free on the NHS to those who need it most in Scotland, England and Wales.
Lets end it - What can you do? Keep yourself and others informed about HIV. Tell your friends and family about this blog and what you have learned. If someone tells you they have HIV, don’t tell anyone else without their permission. Be supportive, respect their confidentiality and treat them like you would treat anyone else.
Currently only 9% of the public know that people on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV. If everyone knew this, we could bring an end to stigma and stop HIV transmissions. Pass the message on today. Every share will help educate and change lives.”
World AIDS Day takes place on 1st December 2017.