Although social awareness of HIV is rising, there are still certain controversies, stereotypes and myths related to this condition. Today we present an interview with a HIV-infected person who will share her personal experience concerning HIV and, hopefully, debunk common myths about this condition.
For personal reasons, our interlocutor insisted on remaining anonymous. Nevertheless, to expand the context, we highlight that it is a man from Algeria.
Could you describe your disease history? How did you get infected with HIV?
I have been living with a HIV diagnosis for several years now and what made me take a test was prevention – I realised that my partner had HIV. At this point, I would like to highlight how important preventive testing is. Without that, I wouldn’t even know about the infection. Later on, I sort of “connected the dots” and realised that my previous partner was HIV-positive.
I received the diagnosis 5 years after getting infected. Since then, I had suffered from a variety of illnesses and infections, but I would never associate these symptoms with HIV. Fortunately, I started my treatment almost immediately.
What strategies and tools help you manage HIV?
I suppose it is crucial to have support in your friends and family. When the people close to you are understanding and caring, living with HIV is a lot easier – not having this support, I started to seek help online.
What is more, I have found a community of HIV-positive people and we share thoughts, successes and doubts online, for example on Facebook groups concerning rapid testing and treatment strategies. We also organise face-to-face meetings and conferences, which additionally helps during worse periods. Unfortunately, receiving a diagnosis meant losing touch with a lot of people I used to spend time with before.
I generally try to remain active and I can openly talk to my friends and family about my diagnosis. I suppose it is the key to understanding HIV and simply accepting it as an integral part of life.
What HIV therapy are you using?
I have decided to undertake antiretroviral therapy, which is currently the most trusted HIV treatment method. Thanks to it, my quality of life has significantly improved. The therapy proved to be effective and my viral load was not detectable within six months – it means that I was not transmitting the virus to others anymore.
HIV treatment is of course linked with certain difficulties and side effects, such as nausea or headaches, but suffering from worsening HIV symptoms or AIDS would be much worse.
How does HIV influence your life?
It would be a lie to say that HIV does not influence my life at all, but I can say that I sometimes forget about the diagnosis. Of course, at first it was shocking and quite depressing for me, but I learned to manage my emotions and accept my HIV-positivity to some extent.
Because the support for HIV-positive people in Algeria is not advanced, I am planning to move to Europe or Canada and turn over a new leaf in my life. I speak four languages and try to develop my skills all the time, so moving from Algeria would be a great opportunity to move on.
Frankly speaking, I wasn’t lucky enough not to face any social stigma or resentment related to HIV. My friends and family were not understanding or supportive about my diagnosis. What is more, I got expelled from my family house and my girlfriend left me.
That is why I do know that HIV-related stigma is a burning issue for a large group of patients. Luckily, the situation is slowly changing, for example in Europe, which is why I am planning to move there in the future.
Fortunately, the social awareness of HIV and AIDS is constantly rising, for example thanks to various social campaigns. I suppose that social media also play a huge role in this process. Nowadays, you may find testimonials of HIV-infected people online, as well as guidelines on living with this condition. The internet is a huge blessing for people not only with HIV, but generally with different diseases. You may stay up-to-date regardless of your nationality and location.
Of course, education is the most important. I take the view that schoolchildren and teenagers should be taught about HIV and its prevention. It should not be treated as taboo. Free testing is another key factor in making people more aware of HIV.