HIV: ‘It’s no longer a death sentence’

Last year, more than 950 people were diagnosed with HIV in Hertfordshire.

But while it was once regarded as a death sentence, those with the condition can lead normal, healthy lives with support and the right medication.

The Gazette's Becca Choules, left, is given a rapid HIV screening test by Denise Blair from Herts Aid

The Gazette's Becca Choules, left, is given a rapid HIV screening test by Denise Blair from Herts Aid

John Pynaert is a 31-year-old gay man living in Hemel Hempstead who was diagnosed as HIV positive in June, and is now awaiting blood test results which will decide if he needs to start taking life-long medication to control the virus.

But John, who has been getting regular tests for several years, is pragmatic about his situation. He said: “At first I was in a bit of a daze. What was I going to do?

“But the way I was brought up was that if something happens, you just deal with it.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus can be transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids, which includes blood, semen, and even breast milk. In 2011, 95 per cent of those who were diagnosed with HIV had contracted the virus through unprotected sexual activity.

John said: “Safe sex is the way forward. In the LGBT community, gay sex and unprotected sex go hand in hand, and they shouldn’t.

“It’s often the case that there are people who are uneducated, or who don’t want to know about it.”

“They way I look at it, it’s similar to diabetes – part of my life and something to be managed. I’m not ashamed. I’m an open book when it comes to my sexuality, and people contract infections and diseases all the time.”

John stresses that re-education and honesty are the key to fighting the stigma associated with a positive HIV diagnosis.

He said: “It’s not the death sentence it was back in the 1980s. The medicines available have been developed and are so much better.”

John cites support group Herts Aid as being instrumental in his decision to open up about his diagnosis.

“If I hadn’t have found them, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. They’ve been an absolute lifeline.”

John, who lives with housemates in the town centre, said: “Since being diagnosed, so many doors have opened up. Through my Herts Aid support buddy, I’m getting involved with a European project focusing on the violence and discrimination that the LGBT community faces every day.

“I’d say if anyone does have any concerns, the best thing they can do is get tested and contact Herts Aid.”

To raise awareness of the condition, Herts Aid is holding free fingerprick test sessions across the county.

They will visit West Herts College’s Dacorum campus next Wednesday, November 27, to talk to students, and will offer the tests at the Marlowes Family Planning Clinic from 6pm to 8pm the following day. For more information and support, visit www.hertsaid.co.uk.