Advances in medication now mean that the virus can no longer be detected in my blood, so its impossible for me to transmit it to anybody
I will always recollect how I felt the moment I was told of my diagnosis as HIV-positive. It was 4 July 2016, and I thought that was it for me. I guessed I was a risk to others, and on a countdown to death. Im not alone in those views a new survey depicts nearly 40% of the public would be uncomfortable going on a date with someone on effective HIV treatment. And one in three would be uncomfortable devoting first aid to someone living with HIV, even if they are on effective treatment.
Now I know that I and everyone else who believes this could not have been more wrong.
A year ago, I was terrified and anxious that I could, and would, infect someone. Satisfying a new partner was now out of the question. With every action I took, I though about every possible scenario that could result in me injuring myself. The thought of seeing my own blood scared me to the core.
I supposed my doctor wouldnt be able to help me any more, and dentists wouldnt be able to treat me. All because I guessed I was walking around being infectious.
Being around people was one of the hardest things to be dealt with, especially my nieces and nephews. They know I am a big kid at heart, and as normal they kept running up to me wanting to play, but I maintained discovering myself putting them at limbs length and telling: Not now.
I began to do a lot of research on HIV and went across articles mentioning the word undetectable. It was not a cure, but this seemed to be a sunlight at the end of the tunnel: effective HIV treatment controls that suppress the virus, so the tracings of HIV in the blood can no longer be detected.
The recent Partner survey which looked at 58,000 instances of sex without a condom between couples where 1 was undetectable and one was HIV-negative determined not a single transmission of the virus. Zero, out of 58,000. This proves that if you are HIV-positive and have an undetectable viral load, you are not infectious and cant pass on the virus. It has taken 20 years, but the scientific proof is here.
Getting to undetectable became my goal. I remember my very first tablet there was so much power in such a small thing. I knew it would not only save my life, but would also protect the people around me. I felt suddenly like I was back in control again. Just two months after my diagnosis, I ran for my viral loading test, to find out if the therapy had been effective. I could feel my belly twisting.
I have some good news for you, the doctor said. The results are back and they demonstrate your viral loading is not detected.
I had just been handed my life certification. I went straight to my sisters house to show her. I gave my niece and nephews a massive nuzzle and rolled around the living room wrestling them, just like Id always done before my diagnosis.
Before these results, my family all knew about my HIV status, and we all tried to be normal, but we all had our own anxieties the what ifs. With these results in front of them, you could feel the atmosphere shifting. There was relief.
I am still adjusting to being HIV-positive, that I cannot lie about. After all, as a homosexual man, my brain had been trained from a young age to fear HIV. But now, as an HIV-positive person, I know that its us the people who are diagnosed, and know they have the virus, but are on medication to suppress it who are the people taking precautions to objective HIV transmission. We dont wishes to, and cant, pass on HIV.
Now I know Im healthy and cant pass on the virus, Im enjoying every moment life brings. But there are going to be many challenges I have to face, because the stigma has not gone away. People fear HIV because they dont understand it. I know that all too well. That was me not that long ago.
Ive become a volunteer speaker in colleges and colleges, giving talks on what life is like being a HIV-positive person. People say Im brave being open about my status, but it shouldnt have to be a brave thing to do.
Im not a risk and there is no need to treat me any differently. We need to get this message out to the people who arent getting tested, who are living with undiagnosed and untreated HIV, simply because theyre too afraid to know. Currently one in seven people living with HIV in the EU doesnt know they have it, and can therefore still pass on the virus. If we removed the dread, we could stop HIV transmission. Its as simple as that.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is starting this process through its Cant Pass it On campaign: people on effective treatment cant pass on HIV. I tested, Im on effective treatment, and I cant pass it on. This is my journey from diagnosis to undetectable. But my journey to stop HIV stigma is only just beginning.
Read more: www.theguardian.com