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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
'You are HIV positive'

'John' was diagnosed HIV positive on 10 July this year, at a west London hospital. On the day the UK government unveils its strategy to combat a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, he tells his story here.

The nurse was kind, caring and professional, but there was no way to soften the blow.

"Your results have come back and they show positive", she said.


I will never forget the moment I stood alone in the street with my mobile phone after getting the news

It was just after 9am on Tuesday 10 July this year and I think at that moment my life went in to "freeze frame".

Before that I had been a busy professional gay man in my thirties with concerns and hopes not all that different from my friends and the people who work with me.

Suddenly I was being ushered down a corridor, into a ward which dealt exclusively with HIV and Aids.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a man who was frail and apparently ill who was giving a blood sample.

More encouraging

I had to force to the front of my mind what I knew already, that the news about HIV is much more encouraging.

Deaths have fallen significantly - at least in developed countries - and the general outlook in terms of health and well-being is far less bleak that it was a few years ago.

Even so, I was confronted with an immediate dilemma, because we knew my infection had happened very recently. A test just a few months earlier had shown I was negative.

The hospital was keen that I should start a short burst of combination therapy to try and hit the virus hard in the earliest stages.

There was no absolute certainty that this would be of benefit to me, but the doctors at the west London hospital I attend have faith in their trial.

I was deeply impressed by their care and support, and the quality of their advice.

Therapy

After talking to as many experts and organisations as I could, this week I started taking a course of therapy to try to suppress the HIV virus.

Two tablets in the morning, one at night. I had worries about side effects but so far so good. I will take the tablets for three months.

Emotionally it has been a rollercoaster.

I will never forget the moment I left the hospital and stood alone in the street with my mobile phone after getting the news - thinking who to ring first and what to say.

I have cried a lot, gone through the process of blame and asking questions about where I went wrong, but I also think it's time to look ahead.

I have the support of many valued friends. The people at work who know have been supportive and deeply caring.

All of this will make living with HIV much easier to bear and living is the important word.

Support group

I have started going to a support group with other people facing the same challenges - some for many many years. Their courage and the way they have reached out to me has been inspiring.


The fear of HIV and Aids has undoubtedly subsided, making many people complacent

But despite my positive outlook, this is not a situation that I would wish on anyone.

That is why it is right that the government should belatedly renew its efforts to tackle complacency about safe sex.

I have my doubts about advertising campaigns and shock posters.

Clearly the message about safe sex is missing the target, if it is being delivered at all.

Unsafe sex

In one internet chatroom used by many gay men in London you can find an area where up to 50 men a night are looking for unsafe or "bareback" sex.

I think the reasons behind the rise in unsafe sex are complex.

The fear of HIV and Aids has undoubtedly subsided, making many people complacent.

The appeal of taking a risk alongside sexual excitement is another factor. So is the belief among many gay men that sex without a condom "is better".

Drink and drugs are also part of this potent mix. Lack of self-esteem among many gay men plays its part as well.

Two years ago I rarely met people who wanted unsafe sex. In the last six months the numbers grew significantly.

If we are really to challenge the spread of HIV, and do it in an intelligent and effective way we need to get to the heart of those issues.

I am picking up the pieces and getting on with my life, but it has been a lot of heartache that I could have done without.

I hope others are spared the same ordeal.

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27 Jul 01 | Health
Fight steps up on sexual diseases
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