With the latest HIV figures for the UK released by Public Health England only a week ago it would be easy to list some grizzly figures, ‘shocking’ numbers and scary statistics this Halloween, but the fact of the matter is there are actually a lot of positives in diagnosing more people… it means they’re aware of their status, they can be provided with anti-retroviral medication and we can stop the spread of the virus.
The harrowing tale is the stigma these newly diagnosed people are likely to face. From day one someone living with HIV carries the burden of deciding whether their status should remain a secret or not, who to tell, if anyone. This will be easier for some individuals than others, but the fear that you could be rejected purely because you are living with a condition can be too much, people still live with their HIV isolated and alone, with medication they’re likely to live healthy lives, and for the majority of the time be very happy, but when times get tough, who do they turn to? The answer more often than not is other people living with HIV. Either through social groups via HIV organisations or charities or online, looking out for groups on social media or via online services like myHIV.
But we shouldn’t have to be reliant solely on people who have experienced the same feelings and situations, peer support is an invaluable and vital aspect of HIV care – but it’s no substitute for speaking to that work colleague you’ve sat next to for years, having a chat with mum on the couch, or calling the best friend you’ve always shared your troubles with.
I look back since my diagnosis and realise I am lucky to have such a fantastic support network, and because I am now so open about my status now I can talk to anyone about living with HIV, the ups and the downs. I look ahead and I hope that we can educate people about HIV and challenge the misconceptions surrounding what is and always will be, just a virus.
The spooky fact this Halloween is that stigma still exists which means people are afraid to test, and those living with HIV unaware are unknowingly spreading it further.