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We must talk about HIV or it stays a “dirty secret"!

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One mans experience that gives one a sudden realization or understanding of what is happening today and how a young man with HIV feels. 

Thanks to Nicole Morley for this wonderful article for 
posted on Wednesday 15 Nov 2017 

It’s been decades since an HIV diagnosis would be considered a death sentence – but the stigma, discrimination and wall of silence remain. 

Thousands of people are diagnosed with HIV in the UK every year, 88,769 people received specialist treatment in 2015 alone. Despite the growing numbers, many decide to keep their condition a secret due to discrimination or concerns of what friends, family and colleagues may think. 

It was for those very reasons that Andrew Bates almost kept his HIV status a secret when he was informed by doctors at just 21-years-old. It had been mere months since Andrew, now 24, had come out to his parents so revealing his diagnosis was a huge shock, but he says the love and unfaltering support from his family, friends and partner Matthew Carr, 31, gave him the confidence to go public and become an advocate for HIV positive people. 

Andrew told ‘I was told it was dormant for three months and then I started showing symptoms like flu and a rash on my elbows and hands. ‘I thought I had a cold, I just felt really run down. I didn’t know how prominent HIV is. I didn’t know it was such a huge risk. ‘I went to my GP with a bad throat and left with a leaflet about HIV and instructions to book an appointment with a sexual health clinic.’

After the initial appointment with his GP, in November 2015, Andrew completed a simple blood test which delivered results within 20 minutes. 

He told ‘Even then I thought nothing of it, but when I went back in, there were two doctors and a health adviser in the room and it was horrendous. ‘It was so horrendous, but they said at the appointment, “you’ll look back at this in six months and wonder why you were so upset” and they were so right, it is ridiculous.

And that is why, right now, what I am trying to say is that people think of HIV, they think of Aids and they think it’s a death sentence. ‘I think the hardest thing about living with HIV is other peoples’ perceptions. That is why it has taken me two years, because there is still a lot of shame attached to it. I was worried about what people would think of me. 

People think it’s a dirty disease!

Andrew says, ‘Even my support worker only told me to tell two people, she warned me “once it’s out, it’s out”, so I did feel a little kicked back into the closet, so to speak. ‘If I did only tell two people, then nothing changes does it? ‘HIV stays a taboo, it stays a dirty secret.’

‘It doesn’t really affect my day to day at all. I take two tablets in the evening. ‘There is nothing that I could do previously that I am unable to now that I have HIV.’

Since I was diagnosed I’ve started eating healthily, stopped smoking and drinking as much. I’ve joined a gym and do yoga two times a week. ‘Obviously there are still risks, but I know that I am fine. So I wanted to be fully confident in talking about it.’ 

‘When I first told my mam, perhaps due to the generation she is from, her first thought was “Oh no, Aids!” She thought I was going to get Aids and die. She has always been a little bit of a drama queen! ‘But over the last two years her and my dad have become something of advocates for HIV, they’ve told their colleagues and friends, who then donated.’

Although Andrew’s friends and family were of great support, he was also able to lean on the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the largest voluntary sector provider of HIV services in the UK.

Despite how many people rely on the THT, the organisation receives no government funding. So, in order to say thank you for the long-term condition management and friendly support he has received, Andrew decided to put on his running shoes and brave a half-marathon to raise money. In March 2018, he will run the London half marathon for the Terrence Higgins Trust.

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