09:00AM, Friday 01 December 2017
Sarah Macadam, left, and Jessica Harding demonstrate the HIV test
‘‘People think you are just sick but I’m not sick.’’
James (not his real name), from Maidenhead, was diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in his teens after an early sexual experience.
He was speaking ahead of World Aids Day today (Friday), which aims to raise awareness about HIV, the virus which can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids), and support those with the virus.
“I was young so it was quite traumatic,” said James, now 30.
He described the change he noticed in people as if he had become ‘dirty’.
“I’m probably healthier than most people; I get regular tests and health check-ups,” he said.
“Once you go onto the medication you need to go through a bit of a lifestyle change. I take one tablet every day for the rest of my life. It suppresses the virus and makes it undetectable.”
James said that the stigma surrounding the virus has become a lot better but there are still a lot of misconceptions,
especially as medication has come a long way since he was first diagnosed.
Life expectancy is now the same as someone who is HIV negative.
“It’s ruined friendships and relationships – some people just stopped talking to me,” he said.
“But I’ve always found people in the gay community understood better than straight people because I think we talk about sexual health more.”
He added: “Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t judge. It’s through not understanding that leads to stigma. My biggest problem is those who don’t want to know.”
James has been receiving support from sexual health charity Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS) since he was 21.
Nearly a decade later he now provides peer support to those newly diagnosed.
TVPS has been supporting people affected by HIV since 1985 and supports more than 500 people across Berkshire.
More than 40 per cent of those diagnosed are done so late, meaning they have been living with the virus without knowing and therefore have a more damaged immune system.
James said: “If it wasn’t for TVPS I don’t where I would be now, I’ve learnt so much from them.”
He said he would see people come into the centre and see himself in what they were going through.
“It’s good for them to know that someone else has been through it,” he said.
“People are mostly scared and they don’t know how to handle it.
“TVPS has been like a family.”
Every year for World Aids Day, TVPS urges the public to wear a red ribbon to show their support for people affected by HIV.
The charity is also asking members of the public to ‘give HIV the finger’ by having a finger-prick HIV test.
CEO Sarah Macadam said: “It really is vital that as many people as possible test for HIV and know their status, so they can protect themselves and their partners.
“At TVPS we offer free, rapid, HIV testing in a discreet venue and you will receive your results at your appointment.
“With so many different ways to test, there is no excuse not to.
“Get involved and help us give HIV the finger.”
James added: “It only takes a minute and they can give you all the advice and support you need.
“It’s not just for you – it’s for your friends, family and relationships.”
You can book a rapid finger-prick HIV test with TVPS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.safesexberkshire.nhs.uk to get information about the different ways you can test.
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