1 in 4 local people with HIV don’t know they have it

World Aids Day logo

Sunday 1 December 2013 marks World AIDS Day(external link), and Calderdale Council is raising awareness of HIV, how it can be contracted and the importance of getting tested.

 Approximately 1 in 4 people living with HIV in Calderdale have no idea that they are a carrier of the disease. Reasons for this are that they have not been checked, they don’t think it could happen to them and 62% of local people surveyed don’t know how HIV can be passed on.

 The majority of them didn’t know HIV could be transferred through breast milk; some didn’t believe it could be carried through male and female sexual fluids; others thought it was just blood. Many people associate HIV with promiscuity or unfaithfulness, and see themselves as being at very low risk of infection. But anyone could be at risk.

 The four ways in which HIV can be contracted are:

  •  Through male sexual fluids (semen)
  • Through female sexual fluids (vaginal fluid)
  • Through breast milk
  • Through blood

 Calderdale Council’s Director of Public Health, Paul Butcher, said:

 “In Calderdale, nearly 65% of people are diagnosed ‘late’, when their treatment should have already started, leaving them at risk of serious illness and reduced life expectancy, and increasing the risk of HIV being passed on to others.”

 Cabinet Member for Health Inequalities, Cllr Simon Young, said:

 “We urge our communities to get tested, even if they believe they could never be at risk. Early diagnosis can save their life. People may fear that discovery of a HIV-positive status would mean facing difficult decisions and responsibilities, but it’s better to know and to get treatment early.” 

To book a HIV test please contact your local GP. For friendly and confidential advice, contact your local sexual health service or the Brunswick Centre at link) or on 01422 341764 – the centre provides sexual health and HIV prevention and support services across Calderdale and Kirklees.

Regular testing for HIV is essential to ensure you know your HIV status. It’s recommended that you test for HIV at least every year or more often if you have taken a risk. 

Below, three Calderdale people tell us why HIV testing is so important:

 “For me HIV testing was a good idea, as I will not pass the virus on to other partners and I can start treatment when required.”

 “I never thought at 23 HIV would be an issue for me, now I have it and my life is very different. I have a lot to consider for my future but I have a future and I’m grateful for that.”

 “HIV has been a part of my life for many years now. When I found out that I had it I thought my life was over, but here I am, still well with a child of my own thanks to my medication, the support of the Brunswick Centre and the doctors.”

 For more information about World AIDS Day, visit link)

 Helen’s story

 Helen from Calderdale shares her story.

Unaware I was living with HIV

I had been experiencing foot problems for 10 years. The bones in my feet were cracked and would swell out of the blue. Throughout this time, I had to have an operation every two months to reduce the pain and swelling and have it cleaned. In 2001, I was on a work trip in Belgium and the doctor there examined me to see what was wrong. After three weeks my foot was swollen again. The doctor took a blood test and gave me a call to say he had some very important news and asked if I had someone to talk to. I begged him to tell me and asked if it was cancer, I thought they would have to remove my foot completely. He advised it was something on a larger scale. I advised that I was a strong woman and could take it.

I visited the doctor and he said “I’m sorry, you are HIV positive”. I gasped with shock. That was my first reaction. I said “it cannot be true”. I told the doctor that I was married and in my country of Uganda, before you get married you have to take a test – mine was negative. I told him my husband died in an accident six years ago and since he died I have not had any sexual relations. The test I had when I was pregnant showed negative for HIV, so I was convinced the doctor was wrong.

I was tested again and after a week I got the results back. It was positive. I was told that because it had gone undetected for so long, they needed to start treatment immediately.

My doctor saved my life. If he didn’t test then I wouldn’t have known and now I would be dead. He was my salvation, my hope and my saviour and without him I wouldn’t have seen my son grow up. I went back to see my family in Uganda in 2010 and saw in my church that there was not one single person who was around my age. It made me realise just how lucky I was. There are approximately 22,000 people with HIV in England who don’t know. You know nothing about your HIV status until a test tells you.

Hope through treatment

The treatment gave me hope. I was given three tablets twice a day, which changed to just one tablet. The hospital monitored my treatment and it was great news that I was improving. I finally had a reason to believe that I was going to wake up tomorrow and after that. I found support organisations where I made friends and was able to talk to others who were living with HIV and understood me.

People think they understand HIV

I don’t like to think of myself as judgemental. But before my HIV diagnosis, if someone I knew told me they were HIV positive I would have asked how they could have been so careless. But now I know how it can happen there are many ways that you can be innocently infected. They think HIV is only sexually transmitted and that you must have been promiscuous. People still think you can contract it through holding hands, sharing food, or even washing the same clothes. But there are only four ways: sexual fluids in men, sexual fluids in women, breast milk and blood.

One woman I was living with who I classed as a close friend, knew I had HIV and unfortunately when she lost her baby she blamed me for killing her child; I was labelled a murderer. She thought I had passed it to her baby through washing clothes or eating together. I lied and said I had got shelter and there I was at the beginning of winter, homeless sleeping at the train stations. You start to judge the world because one person judged you. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to understand HIV, how you get it and how to live with it and with those that have it.

Living with HIV

Life throws all sorts of challenges. HIV is one of the many I have had to face. There are times I feel excluded but I remember I always have a group of other friends through support groups that I can talk to and share things with. I have been blessed with an accepting, extended family, valuable friends and an amazing son. Needless to say all those that have loved me and accepted me have not contracted HIV from me.

Living with HIV makes you appreciate life every day. I appreciate that I can see my son grow; he brings me so much joy and I am extremely proud and thankful to see him grow up. This gift outweighs any HIV symptoms.

A message to others

“If you are not HIV positive you can still be a positive impact in the lives of those living with HIV.”

“If you do not know your HIV status, you are not safe. Get tested.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are young, old, married, rich, poor or sexually active, it infects any human being; it doesn’t discriminate.”

“In the UK, we have over 22,000 people who are not aware that they are living with HIV. How do you know you are not one of them?”

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