Living with HIV
Living with HIV and AIDS is not as bleak a prospect these days as it was in the early days of the epidemic 20 years ago – at least not if you’re fortunate enough to live in a resource-rich developed country.
Ask anyone what’s uppermost in their minds after finding out they have HIV. For most people it’s a fear of imminent death.
But thanks to some major medical advances people with HIV are now living normal healthy lives for a much longer time and the number of AIDS related deaths in the developed world is certainly dropping.
For those in developing countries, the future is more grim due to a lack of available and affordable healthcare. In some poorer nations antiretroviral drugs are beginning to become more widely available and the situation has improved over the last ten years.
Of course it’s pretty terrifying to discover that you’re HIV positive. Your whole life is turned upside down and the realization dawns that some major changes are going to have to be made.
Do you tell your family and friends or your employer? You don’t have to tell everyone straight away – and no-one can force you to tell anyone at all although there are the obvious moral and legal issues to be considered if you fail to notify past, present or future sexual partners. It’s a difficult one but the chances are you’re going to need time to get used to the idea that you have the virus and come to terms with that before coping with anyone else’s feelings.
But living with what is still a terminal illness is inevitably highly stressful, particularly if you’ve already seen someone else die of an AIDS related illness.
What it Means to Live with HIV
Unfortunately HIV still carries a stigma and other people’s prejudices can be the hardest hurdle to overcome. Suddenly your best friends may not come round anymore or your job is suddenly made redundant. You may lose your home or if you’re a young person with HIV you may be bullied or even driven out of school.
You may remain in perfect health for years yet you may still find yourself a victim of the prejudice and misunderstandings surrounding HIV. Once you’ve told someone that you’re HIV positive that’s not something they are going to forget. You soon find out who your real friends are.
After initial diagnosis many people choose to undergo counseling. This can help you learn more about the disease and what to expect – and also what not to expect. There are so many myths surrounding the disease that it really is better to know your enemy in this case.
Then it’s down to the nitty gritty business of learning to adjust your life to your condition and to the medical hamster wheel you’ve found yourself on.
Everyday will be dominated by medication and there’ll be regular tests to keep track of your CD4+ count and viral load indicating how well your immune system is doing and the extent to which the virus has invaded your body.
The good news is that new medical treatments enable many people with HIV to leave full and productive for years and most would agree that a strict medical regime is a small price to pay for good health.
Obviously you have to think long term and consider the financial needs of family members who may depend on you. In many developed countries, including the USA and United Kingdom, social services can provide financial help in the form of incapacity benefits for those who become too ill to work. Developing countries where generations have been wiped out by the virus aren’t so lucky.