HIV - Living with HIV
HIV has changed a lot since it was first identified in the early 1980s – both socially and in terms of prevention, provision and treatment. However, there still remains a lot of social stigma around HIV and despite effective treatment making HIV a very manageable condition, HIV still is a lifelong, chronic illness with no cure which is again on the rise in many communities. Regular testing to know your status is the best way to combat HIV transmission, and early diagnosis and treatment insures that a person living with HIV will become Undetectable and will not transmit the virus – the medical concept of Undetectable= Untransmittable or U=U.
Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and effective treatment
HIV treatment is done through a series of medications called antiretroviral therapy (ART). This medication keeps the virus under control by stopping it from replicating in the body and suppressing the viral load or levels of HIV virus in the body. The goal is to keep levels of HIV so low that in tests the person has an undetectable viral load. If someone with HIV is on effective treatment and has an undetectable viral load they cannot pass on HIV. HIV specialists called this ‘Undetectable= Untransmittable’ or ‘U=U’. In some cases it can take up to six months for some people’s viral load to become undetectable. It is now recommended that someone who has been diagnosed with HIV immediately begin treatment on ART.
Advantages of early HIV diagnoses
The advantages of early diagnosis are:
- You can monitor your health effectively.
- You can plan for the future.
- You can start treatment when required, reducing damage to your body.
- Effective adherence to ART medication means you will soon have an undetectable viral load meaning you will NOT transmit the virus to a partner (U=U)
Late diagnosis is a serious problem in relation to health complications and therefore, the earlier you are diagnosed the more likely you are to be able to manage the infection and lead a healthier life.
Support for people living with HIV
We now know a lot more about HIV and how to manage it, which means people living with HIV can live longer, healthier lives. However, just because things have changed it does not mean we don’t need to worry about HIV. It still remains incurable, and is ultimately a life-long chronic illness. Other than the medical impact of the virus, HIV can cause other strains in a person’s life such relationship difficulties, family issues, and instances of social stigma and prejudice
Thankfully, there are a number of great UK organisations that work to support people living with HIV. At LGBT Foundation we have a number of support services for all LGBT people including talking therapies. Our sexual health team is always available for one-to-one discussions about your sex life, sexual health and relationship needs/issues and what impact being HIV positive might have on these.
If you are living in the Greater Manchester area our partner organization George House Trust (GHT) is an invaluable source of support and advice for people living with HIV. GHT offer an array of services including one-to-one support and counselling, peer mentoring, financial advice and a welfare fund, and group support services for all ages (https://ght.org.uk ). If you live elsewhere in the UK the Terence Higgins Trust (THT) offers a range of supports and services similar to LGBT Foundation and George House Trust (http://www.tht.org.uk/ ).
U=U and challenging stigma
With advancements in effective treatment, HIV is now a very manageable illness. When the virus first appeared in the 1980s it quickly became a global pandemic, leading to millions of people developing AIDS, and much death and suffering. Gay, bi and other men who have sex with men suffered disproportionately at the time. Media reports often portrayed the virus as a ‘gay disease’ and a ‘death sentence’ leading to increased homophobia in society and stigma of gay sex. As the decade progressed into the 1990s Black African communities suffered from a similar form of stigma.
HIV is no longer a ‘death sentence’ yet the fear and stigma around HIV still exists. Many people living with HIV suffer from various forms of prejudice in society. In this regard it is vital that as a community we support people living with HIV and work to breakdown social stigma by telling people about U=U, and by encouraging our friends, family and loved to get tested and know your HIV status.
Know your status! Find out more about testing with LGBT Foundation here!