We are recruiting two part-time Case Work Co-ordinators

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Living with HIV?

Want to make a difference to the lives of others?

Positively UK are recruiting two part-time Case Work Co-ordinators to support people living with HIV through the delivery of our Local Authority Contracts

 

SALARY: £27,000 pro-rata (depending on experience)

HOURS: 21 hours (3 days) per week

 

Final date for applications: Monday 27 March; interviews Thursday 30 March

 

Statutory Case Work Team:

Working as members of the case work team at Positively UK you will co-ordinate activities to promote the health and well-being of residents. This will entail case management and action planning, working with and supervising a small team of volunteer peer mentors, project partners, local support agencies, HIV and other health services and the wider services at Positively UK. Priorities for the roles will be in reaching people newly diagnosed with HIV developing short group work interventions.

Statutory Contracts:

Positively UK work with several local authorities including Camden, Islington, Ealing, Enfield, Newham, Hackney and Waltham Forest

Benefits of the Role:

Full training provided with Positively UK’s peer mentoring programme, leading to a Level 2 qualification in Mentoring and Befriending and ongoing professional development. You will have the opportunity to use your knowledge and experience of living with HIV to support others, gain experience working in the field of health and social care and working collaboratively with clinical staff.

Successful candidates will be:

  • Diagnosed, and living with HIV, for at least one year
  • A self-starter, able to work as part of a team and under own supervision
  • Experience of accessing sexual health and community support services
  • Experience of developing and facilitating group interventions and/or supporting people newly diagnosed with HIV

 

For an informal conversation about the roles contact:

Beatrice Osoro on 020 7713 0444

For an application pack contact:

Miguel on 020 7713 0444, or email miguel@positivelyuk.org


Romance Starts at Home

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

#lovepositivewomen

This month at the Women’s Room, our monthly support group for women with HIV, we celebrated Valentine’s Day and gathered together to talk about love in all its aspects from self-love to dating, learning from past relationships and talking about HIV to partners. We were inspired by the campaign started by the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) in 2015 ‘Love a Positive Woman: Romance Starts at Home’.

We know that many of us are interested in dating, by a show of hands on the evening, in our group of just over 20 women a third were in a relationship, a third were looking for a partner, and a third were not interested in dating. However, we all agreed we were all interested in the topic… as you never know! Unsurprisingly many of us had responded to the HIV diagnosis with strong anxiety around relationships. As one of the participants who had only been diagnosed for about a year put it: “HIV has made me reconsider my approach to dating, and I have decided to take a pause. HIV has given me an opportunity to reflect as I need to understand better where I stand and what I want.” Those words resonated with many of us. Following our diagnosis in many we have asked ourselves: “Will I ever have sex again?” “Will I be able to love?” “How can I have a relationship with HIV?”

Having been a self-help group facilitator of women with HIV for over 15 years, I feel like I am a bit of an expert, as I have spoken to hundreds of women with HIV about relationships, and I can tell you that actually many of us will go on having relationships, having sex, starting families etc. Actually often the experience of having to deal with HIV, will give us additional skills and insights to navigate relationships.

In 2017 we finally know that science has demonstrated that when we take HIV treatment and our virus is undetectable (which means there is so little HIV in the blood it can hardly be found) we cannot pass HIV through sex. The PARTNER study, which followed couples where one partner was HIV positive and one was HIV negative for over 4 years and included men and women, straight and gay couples, and counted over 58,0000 instances of penetrative sex without a condom, didn’t encounter one single transmission… I just love this statistic nearly 60,0000 condomless sexual acts with no HIV being passed… that’s a lovely thought for Valentine’s day… anyway I am digressing…

The important thing is the that PARTNER study, after all this sero-different jolly sex without condoms, showed ZERO transmissions! Alison Rodgers, one of the researchers presenting the study when asked to tell Aidsmap about the chances of someone with an undetectable viral load transmitting HIV, said “our best estimate is zero”.

As women living with HIV the evidence brought by the PARTNER study is incredibly powerful and liberating. However, the reality is that these findings are not common knowledge and the prospects of having to explain substantial scientific information to a potential partner can still be daunting to many of us. We still wish that more was done in the public domain to dispel common myths around HIV.

In the final part of the evening we a returned to the theme of self-love. In small groups we discussed all the beautiful qualities we recognise in ourselves, we named our natural gifts, and acknowledged the many positive aspects we manifest as acts of self-love. It was so heart-warming to go around the room and hear women say “I am good at making you laugh” “I am spiritual person” “I go to church” “I can teach you how to cook” “I like to listen” “I am passionate” “I like to have fun and dance until dawn” “I have a great smile.”

We also created a ‘Partner Manifesto’ making a wish list of characteristics we were hoping for in a partner. Some of the most important ones we named were being compassionate, kind, open minded, a problem solver, financially independent, and obviously somebody with a nice bum with whom we felt attraction and chemistry!

Finally, we also discussed what we learnt from our past relationships:

  • To put ourselves first
  • To compromise
  • Don’t sell ourselves short
  • Not listen to what society says a woman should do/ should be
  • We need to know what we want
  • ‘All along I was enough for myself’
  • We can’t change our partners
  • Don’t try and please our partner; please ourselves
  • We need to look at ourselves first and the role we play in relationships
  • We need to be more independent
  • We need to develop our self confidence
  • We need to look at other opportunities outside the relationship
  • We need to have lives filled with different interests

I must admit I was completely smitten by the evening. In so many years facilitating groups about love and relationships this was the first time when the conversation didn’t focus totally on HIV. All of a sudden we collectively realised that actually the most important matter when looking for a relationship shouldn’t just be weather our partners accepts the fact that we have HIV, but whether or not they are the right person for us. Just like before we knew we had HIV. Maybe the only difference is that we are a bit wiser.

As 8 o’clock was approaching, we quickly shared our best bits of wisdom on the topic of telling a partner that we have HIV.

The Dos of telling were:

  • Stay with a positive attitude: it is contagious
  • Normalise HIV, don’t make a big deal of it
  • Check how you feel about it yourself, people pick up on your emotions
  • Don’ treat it like a problem
  • Give the facts
  • Gauge their knowledge first with casual questions
  • Make sure the person you are dealing with has empathy
  • Make sure they deserve to know and they are a nice person all round

As for the don’ts of telling partners, we didn’t have too many: just don’t rush. Do it when is right for you, for some of us that may be on the first date, and for others we may need more time. We must remember that there is no obligation to tell, if we are not ready, especially, now, as we know that when we are undetectable we will not pass HIV: it is up to us, when, to whom, and how we talk about our HIV.

Our next Women’s Room meeting will be on 08 March, on International Women’s Day. The theme will be: ‘Fulfilling Our Potential’ and we will look at opportunities to for self-development, training, volunteering, and developing our careers. For more information, please ring 020 7713 0444 or email Hrogers@positivelyuk.org or Donyanago@positivelyuk.org


Disclosing to partners

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Dear Jim

Pedro writes:

Dear Jim,
Since I started treatment and got to undetectable I’ve felt a lot better about meeting guys and having sex again. But because I know I’m not infectious, I’m not sure whether I need to tell them about my HIV.
What do you think?

Dear Pedro,

Great to hear you’re feeling back to your old self. When we become undetectable and realise we can’t transmit the virus to anyone, we start to get our ‘mojo’ back and that does wonders for our confidence and self-worth. Meeting and dating guys can be difficult at the best of times, regardless of our HIV status, so removing this one complication makes things a whole lot easier.

But like so many things in life, there’s always a flip side. Living with an undetectable viral load places us in an odd position. On the one hand we should stay perfectly healthy if we take our meds, but on the other we’re not actually cured. We’re still HIV positive men. A friend who was diagnosed many years back recently told me that in the old days you would disclose your status to a guy you liked because you wanted to give him a simple choice. A choice as to whether to sleep with you or not. Because in those days there WAS a risk of passing on the virus. If he didn’t want to get involved with you or do the business then you wouldn’t like it, but at least you tried to respect it. Nowadays it’s different. It shouldn’t really be about giving someone a choice based on your status, it’s more about you wanting to open a dialogue, to have the conversation about what it means to have a healthy sex life and relationship. Of course they may not want to sleep with you for other reasons, but if it’s because of your HIV when there is no risk of passing on the virus then it makes it harder, in my view, to respect them.

Having the conversation though, starts by having it with yourself. We all need to think through whether we will tell someone, when and how we do it and how prepared we might be for the reaction. If it’s just a hook up or a one-night stand, I don’t think there’s necessarily the need to disclose because you’re not exposing him to any HIV risk and having ‘that’ conversation can be a bit of a passion killer. But if he then later asks you, you need to be clear what you’re going to say because it’s hard to predict how someone might react if you disclose to them only after you’ve had sex. Personally, I almost always disclose because I prefer to lay my cards on the table and for both of us to go into things with our eyes open. This way we both feel more relaxed and there’s better connection and chemistry.

If we do disclose, say in a dating situation, a common question I get asked is when best to do it. Do we break the news when we meet someone and get it out the way so as not to waste time barking up the wrong tree? Or do we wait until they’ve got to know (and hopefully like us) a bit better and then be more likely to overlook the issue of our HIV? Of course the risk of waiting is that we may then be open to accusations of not having told them earlier. Personally, I think we do ourselves down if we wait too long before we say anything. Think about it. What are we telling ourselves if we start from a position where we feel we are ‘damaged goods’ and that perhaps they’ll ‘overlook’ our status once they’ve got to know us? Isn’t it better to go on a date feeling sexy and confident? After all, we’re doing our bit. We’re on treatment, we’re undetectable, we’re looking after our health. We should be proud of that!

Of course he may react badly, or show high levels of ignorance. If this is the case, start off with trying NOT to be defensive. Use it as an opportunity to educate him. Ask him when he was last tested and whether he’s thought about taking PrEP. Find out about PrEP yourself so you can give him the right information (visit I Want PrEP Now and Prepster). If he needs time to think things over, make sure he knows you’re cool with that. More than likely he’ll like and respect you more for this. And if he doesn’t then he’s probably not worth it anyway.

Then of course there’s the Apps. To their credit, many of them now have options around choosing what you say about your status. Not just whether you’re positive or negative, but also whether you’re undetectable or on PrEP. Being upfront about this before anyone even messages you can avoid awkward conversations down the line. This way you can filter out people who might have an issue with your status before they even contact you. Being honest may also lead to more interest from other positive guys and also from other guys that know if you’re undetectable, they can’t catch HIV from you. In short if you’re being honest about your status on line, chances are people won’t think any less of you. I’ve noticed more guys being upfront about their status which is a really good thing, whether we’re poz or neg. Telling the world we’re undetectable or on PrEP isn’t something everyone wants to do, but every one of us that does it makes an important contribution to bringing our lives with HIV and preventing onward transmission into the light and reducing stigma around it.

We don’t have to, or generally always want to, tell the world about our HIV but when we do we’re acknowledging that it’s an important part of our personal story about which we shouldn’t feel any guilt or shame. It’s just one of life’s challenges that are thrown at us, I believe, to make us better and stronger people. But this only happens if we learn to open up, talk about it, and have those better conversations.

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like answered around living with HIV, please email jfielder@positivelyuk.org


Telling family and friends about your HIV

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Dear Jim

Cristian writes:

Dear Jim,
Since my diagnosis in the summer, I’ve told one or two close friends but am finding it hard to be more open about my status and haven’t told my family yet. I’m going home to see them at Christmas and would like them to know but am worried how they’ll react.
What shall I do?

Dear Cristian,

You’re far from alone. Telling our friends and family about our HIV status is one of the biggest challenges we face as people living with HIV and having feelings of uncertainty around it is very common. Deciding who to tell, when and how to do it can feel so overwhelming, especially after a new diagnosis, that some of us opt to stay in the viral closet for fear of negative reaction, judgement and rejection. For us gay men, we remember only too well how that feels from our experiences coming out as gay and how we approach disclosing out HIV status is closely informed by those times. In many ways it’s a second coming out.

Here are my 5 most important things to consider when disclosing to family and friends:

It’s your choice who you tell, and yours alone
The first thing to remember is that choosing who to tell and not tell is your personal decision. You don’t have to tell anybody, or feel any pressure to do so – it’s your choice and your right. Living with HIV is in many ways no different from living with any chronic medical condition and is a private matter. So when you do decide to open up, it’s better to be selective and take your time to consider who to tell and how to tell them. You want to get it right, because once you’ve told people you can’t take it back.

Once you’ve decided to tell, be clear why you are doing the telling
Usually, we’ll be telling family and friends because something important has happened to us and we want to share important things with those we are closest to. But we should check in with ourselves whether we’re feeling anxious and are just doing it to ‘dump’ our feelings. Often being able to talk about what’s on our mind is a great relief and that is enough in itself, but if you’re not sure you’ll get the support or understanding, or that they won’t be able to handle it, then think carefully. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself the question, what is the benefit to me of telling them? If that’s not clear, don’t do it.

Think about what you want to say
Once you’ve decided to disclose, it’s good to think about what you want to say in advance and be ready for the questions. You might want to say that you’re telling them because of how much they mean to you and how much you love them. And that you want them to be there for you. Think about what it is you want to tell them about your HIV. Keep it simple if you can – you don’t have to tell your life story. You’ll probably want them to know that they don’t need to worry about your health, and that you’re going to be OK. And whether you’re on meds or not. Or undetectable. Offer to answer their questions but be prepared for the ‘how did you get it?’ one (errr… through sex?). Basically, the better informed you are, the more likely you are to re-assure them and reduce any anxiety they may have. If you’re anxious, they’ll probably be anxious too. In my experience, how you are and come across in these situations will determine more than anything else the reaction you get.

Be ready for the reaction
Having said that, we can never know for certain how people will react. So we need to be ready for this. Christmas may or may not be a good time to do it, depending on who is around and how long you’re all around for, so think about that. Whatever the response you get, and even if it doesn’t go the way you’d hoped, more than likely when that person has digested the news and thought about it, their reaction will change. I always find it useful to remember that my knowledge and understanding of HIV before I was diagnosed was, to my shame, not great so if I am faced with ignorance then I’ll be sympathetic, rather than defensive. The act of telling is not in my experience a one-off event, but rather a journey, a conversation, that takes time to unfold and develop. In fact, on receiving the news, it’s the other person that might want to get support and talk to someone else about it, so you need to consider whether you’re happy with them disclosing to other people or whether you’d prefer it kept in confidence.

And if all this just feels too difficult, don’t isolate yourself
There may be lots of reasons why you still don’t feel able to tell your nearest and dearest. Perhaps you’re not out, or there are cultural attitudes in your community that would simply make being open about your HIV status an unbearable prospect. If this is the case, then don’t isolate yourself. Allow yourself to draw on the support and experiences of others that have been in the same situation. A number of organisations, including Positively UK, provide one to one and group support giving you opportunities to explore your feelings and hear how others have dealt with these issues in a safe and confidential space.

For further guidance on telling people about your HIV try these websites:

I’ve been very lucky in that all the people I’ve told have been supportive and this has only strengthened my ties with family and friends. I come from a close family so it never even occurred to me not to tell them. But in terms of my friends, I made a conscious decision that if they couldn’t deal with it, then really they weren’t people I wanted in my life. People living with HIV that I know and work with often talk about their post diagnosis life as being like a ‘filter’, an opportunity to re-assess their relationships and focus on those that are genuine and nurturing. Time to get rid of the fake friends perhaps.

There’s no perfect roadmap to disclosing your status Cristian, but if you trust your instinct and not your fears, you’ll be on the right track. Thousands of others have dealt with this and have found their way through it. You will get through it too.

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like answered around living with HIV, please email jfielder@positivelyuk.org


Maria’s Story

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Maria's Story

Maria

Could you tell us something about your diagnosis and how it has affected you, especially in relation to dating and relationships?

I was diagnosed a year ago, a few months after breaking up with my ex-partner. It has been all quite overwhelming and I felt I was not fit for dating or a relationship. My health and controlling the virus were my priority, together with keeping my job and my financial stability. The idea of dating was daunting and the prospect of intimacy scared me to the point that I have been disconnected from my sexuality since the diagnosis.

Today a year after I am in great health and I am confident that if I look after myself and take treatment regularly I will be able to have a normal life. However, my main worry remains whether I will be able to have a relationship again.

The Partner study has confirmed that being undetectable I cannot pass the virus. However not only it takes time for HIV positive people to fully embrace the meaning of being undetectable and regain confidence but once and if we achieve this we have to face a lack of public awareness and possible rejection. Many people still believe in wrong myths on how HIV is transmitted or don’t know the advance in treatment and probably only a few are aware that being undetectable today means being non-infectious.

Then there is the issue of confidentiality and stigma. I cannot think of starting a relationship hiding such an important part of my life to a potential partner. But then the dilemma is when is the right time to tell? Will he runaway before he gets to know me? Will he see me for who I am or will he only see HIV? And is he going to respect my privacy or is he going to tell my status to other people?

What needs to change?

Reducing stigma and increasing public awareness. I often hear that HIV positive people have the responsibility to educate others on how it is living with HIV today. This is fine however we can do so only to a certain extent. Many including myself are worried of the consequences of being exposed to stigma and judgement and what the repercussions could be for our jobs, safety and families.

We are still living in the shadow of the terrifying AIDS campaign of the 80s which no longer reflects today’s medical progress. While HIV got somehow forgotten the epidemic hasn’t stopped. We need a new strong, loud and effective campaign which encourages testing by giving a more optimistic message on medical progress and emphasizes what being undetectable means in terms of preventing transmission.

Have you ever experienced mental or physical abuse as a consequence of your status?

Apart from health professionals and peer support groups I have only disclosed to a small and selected number of friends and they have been very supportive.

However there have been a couple of occasions at work when my boss made some very judgemental and ignorant comments on HIV and who gets it and worse “deserves” it because of what he considers being promiscuous people and behaviours.

I have worked for my company for many years and contributed to its growth. I have not taken a day off sick since my diagnosis, my performance hasn’t changed, I am taking treatments to protect myself and others surrounding me so it angers me that I have to feel threatened from a possible negative reaction should my boss find out my status. I consider this a form of psychological abuse.

For my peace of mind and pocket I have decided to live in secrecy for the time being, which is also quite daunting. I know I am protected by the law against discrimination however would I want to start a painful and expensive legal procedure should I feel I have been discriminated and most importantly would I want to work in an environment with these attitudes?

What else needs to change?

Again reducing stigma and improving public awareness.

When disclosing to different people as much as I found support I also felt many thought that they were not at risk of getting HIV as somehow they felt it only affects people from certain ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations or those who have promiscuous behaviours.

I got HIV while I was in a relationship and I am an example that HIV can actually happen to anyone no matter if you fall in any of the categories or have behaviours considered at risk.

Especially with the rise of social media, dating websites and mobile applications anyone who is sexually active, whether promiscuous or not, is at risk. Again we need a strong campaign which tackles these wrong assumptions and breaks the fear of testing focusing instead on the impressive medical progress made since the epidemic started.


Becoming Undetectable

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Dear Jim

Josh writes:

Dear Jim,
I started HIV treatment a few months ago, and my viral load has just become undetectable. I know this is good news and that there is now virtually no risk of passing on the virus, but I still feel anxious about it and how it will affect my sex life and relationships.
Can you help?

Dear Josh,

It’s great news you’re now undetectable. This means that you have a level of virus in your blood that is so low it cannot be detected by the tests used in clinics. Not only does this mean that your body’s immune system is making a full recovery and you should live a long and healthy life, but that you’re no longer able to pass on HIV. That was a great feeling when it happened to me and knowing I was not infectious made me feel a whole lot better about myself.

But reaching the undetectable milestone, does raise new concerns and doubts in our minds. We know we’re not cured, but we know we’re basically OK so it feels like we’re in some kind of no man’s land of neither one thing or the other. And into this space pour the questions. Am I really uninfectious? Do I still need to use condoms? How do I talk about being positive and undetectable with my partners? Do I even need to disclose my new status? Suddenly things don’t feel quite so straightforward.

Let’s start with the facts. In terms of passing on HIV, the science has been building a pretty conclusive case. In 2008 it was claimed, through what has become known as the Swiss Statement, that if you’re on treatment and your viral load has been undetectable for at least 6 months then you don’t need to use condoms during sex. At the time, this caused a lot of controversy but more recent studies such as HPTN 052 and the PARTNER study are now backing this up as fact. The latter followed a group of straight and gay people living with HIV and on meds and their HIV negative partners as they had condomless sex to see whether treatment did prevent transmission. Out of 58,000 instances of sex without condoms, there was not a single case of HIV linked to their partner. Not one.

This was an important study because it included a large number of gay couples, showing that treatment prevents transmission via anal sex. This study is ongoing and further results are expected next year, but the take home message is if you have had an undetectable viral load for 6 months, and you have regular viral load testing showing that you remain undetectable, then the risk of passing on HIV to the other person without a condom is negligible. We can’t say zero risk, but that’s as close to zero as you can get. So whether you do or don’t use condoms, in the end comes down to the extent to which you and your partner worry about things that happen very rarely.

Before my diagnosis I’d been using condoms fairly religiously (although perhaps not religiously enough) but then after diagnosis and for the first time in my life, I realised I didn’t need to avoid getting HIV. This might sound obvious, but it was a much more significant moment than I imagined. The feeling of liberation I have discovered is shared by a lot of positive men. Finally, the fear is over and we can get on with the business of having sex the way it was meant to be, which after decades of living through the AIDS epidemic is something very powerful.

Unfortunately, condomless sex, particularly with multiple partners, leads to increased infection with other STI’s and the need for regular antibiotic treatments. This is unhealthy for us, costly for the NHS and if current predictions are anything to go by, the rise of antibiotic resistant strains of STI’s could mean that these infections become untreatable. STI’s such as Hepatitis C can also be more difficult to treat if we’re living with HIV. So we need to find ways of keeping ourselves and our partners healthy and STI free, while enjoying our sex lives. This comes down to asking ourselves what kind of sex and relationships we want.

Working out how to talk about our undetectable status can be tricky, particularly as there still appear to be high levels of fear and ignorance about it in the gay community. In a gay sex survey carried out last year by FS Magazine, it was found that 49% didn’t know what undetectable meant. It also showed that high numbers of men, particularly younger men, said they wouldn’t have sex with a positive guy. However, when it was explained to them what undetectable meant, a third of these men reconsidered their stance. This shows that although there remain high levels of ignorance, educating our friends and partners about undetectable viral loads goes a long way to combating stigma and rejection.

So, getting yourself informed about your undetectable status, and knowing the kind of sex and relationships you want, will give you the knowledge and confidence around whether to disclose to your partner, how you talk about it if you choose to do so and what you decide to tell him. It will also give him the confidence to know he can trust you. He may not take you at your word straight away and might want to go away and make up his own mind. That’s fine. At least you’ve got the ball rolling. In the end you’re both operating from a place of openness and honesty. Where things go from there depends on that magic thing called chemistry but at least you’ve got off on the right foot.

Check the hashtag #undetectable on twitter

For further reliable sources of information go to:

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like answered around living with HIV, please email jfielder@positivelyuk.org


HIV and the Menopause

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Shema Tariq

Please introduce yourself in a few words…

My name is Shema Tariq. I split my time between working as a consultant in HIV at Mortimer Market Centre (London) and as an HIV researcher at UCL. For the past ten years, I have worked on improving the health and wellbeing of women living with HIV. I currently lead the PRIME Study, a national study looking at menopause in women living with HIV.

What is the menopause?

The menopause (or the ‘change’) is the time when women’s periods stop permanently (either naturally or because of medical treatment) and they lose their reproductive potential. In the UK alone 13 million women are going through or have been through the menopause, many experiencing symptoms and possibly facing other longer term health impacts.

What can we expect as women living with HIV during the menopause?

The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51-52 years. As women approach this time they may notice their periods get more irregular or heavier. Women commonly notice sudden feelings of being hot (hot flushes). Other symptoms include difficulties sleeping, feeling irritable, feeling low, aches and pains, dryness in the vagina, loss of interest in sex, and difficulty concentrating. Of course, not all women experience symptoms, and those that do might find that they manage their symptoms very well themselves.

Does the menopause differ for women living with HIV?

Some studies show that women living with HIV experience menopause earlier (by 2 to 3 years), and that they experience more symptoms. But there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.

We know that the risk of osteoporosis (fragile bones) is increased in HIV and in women after the menopause. So women living with HIV who have reached the menopause may be at particular risk of bone disease.

Finally, our research has found that women living with HIV may face challenges in recognising and managing menopause symptoms, not knowing if symptoms are related to HIV or the menopause, and feeling “stuck” between GPs and specialist HIV services.

What can help us, as women with HIV, going through the menopause well?

If you are worried about symptoms, then you can speak to your hospital doctor or your GP. They should be able to help you. Women who have troubling symptoms can take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This treatment replaces the oestrogen hormone that is lost as we get older. It is safe for most women and your doctors can advise you about it. It is available as tablets, patches, gels and creams. It is safe to take with HIV medication for most women.

There are also things you can do to help yourself. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and stopping smoking may all help with symptoms and also make sure you stay healthy well into older age.

What is the Prime Study?

Our team are conducting one of the largest studies to date in Europe, and the first ever in the UK, looking at how the menopause affects the health and well-being of women living with HIV. The PRIME Study is recruiting 1500 women living with HIV aged between 45 and 60 from 20 HIV clinics across England. Women are invited to complete a short questionnaire, with some women taking part in an in-depth interview so we can find out more about their experiences. All participation is confidential.

Is it too late to get involved?

No! If you are a woman living with HIV aged between 45 and 60 then we need your help. Together we can find out how to improve the health and wellbeing of women living with HIV as they get older. If you are interested in taking part please speak to your HIV clinic to see if they are involved in the study, or email me at s.tariq@ucl.ac.uk

Where can we find out more?

If this has sparked your interest, then you can find out more about PRIME at our website and by following us on Twitter at @Prime_UCL.

For more information about the menopause then please check out these websites:


Sue’s Story

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Sue

My name is Sue and I have been diagnosed with HIV since March 1997, at the age of 25. When I first went to the clinic to ask for a test I was told that I wasn’t in a ‘high risk’ group. As I wasn’t a drug user, I wasn’t having ‘promiscuous’ sex and I was a white European. I still went ahead and had the test and the rest is history.

I can still remember my seroconversion illness. For anyone who does not know what that is. Let me explain. Your body is reacting to the virus and you have flu like symptoms. Not everyone gets this as people have different reactions to being exposed to HIV. I remember lying in bed, dripping with sweat, aching body, and feeling completely exhausted. This only lasted a few days, and I was back to normal. The only reason I went for a test was because the man whom I had been dating turned out to be a rampant cheater. Ironically I had requested that we used condoms for the first 3 months. But after immense pressure from him not to use them, I gave up. Not my choice, looking back I should have stuck to my guns.

There was also lots of pressure for me to agree to have anal sex with him and I think it may be the reason I became positive: due to lack of lubrication and bleeding. There is so little information for heterosexual couples on how to have anal sex safely, but it is not an uncommon way to enjoy sex!

This was many years ago now. I went on to have 3 more children whilst being positive. All of them are negative. Back in 2000 you were encouraged to undergo an elective caesarean section. Things have changed and my most recent pregnancy I had the option to have a vaginal birth after caesarean. Only due to my age and extremely high blood pressure I opted for an early C section again. I was more worried about my blood pressure than my HIV.

Now I face the struggles that a lot of long term diagnosed women face. Looking for employment and suitable childcare. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the media seem to demonise anybody who is in receipt of any Benefit Entitlement. Notice the word Entitlement is in capitals. That’s because it’s your right to claim exactly what you are entitled to and not be made to feel like a second class citizen for doing so.

Lots of people who may have had a Disability Living Allowance(DLA) lifetime award are now facing the prospect of being made to look for work after an extensive employment gap and with poor health. A great option for anyone who is in this position is to become a part-time volunteer to upskill and receive training. This will fill employment gaps and help you to become ready both physically and mentally for re-joining the workforce.

HIV is not one of my regrets, but I am sad and angry that being HIV positive did not allow me the chance to have a mortgage to buy my own property, whilst the prices were still affordable. Now people living with HIV can get a mortgage but it’s out of reach for most first time buyers on a low wage.

Nowadays I have to deal with ageing and other health problems that come with getting older. My energy levels are non-existent and I worry about cognitive impairment possibly caused from the meds. In other words I have the memory of a goldfish but it helps to write everything down. Low vitamin D levels are also a cause of most of my symptoms, and since taking vitamin D supplements I have found a new lease of life.

Those health problems have taught me to always get checked for other underlying complications and to always go into the Doctors clinic with a list of things to ask written down.

Just a few words from someone who has been living with HIV for nearly 20 years: it’s not that bad and there are times when you forget you have HIV. Eventually, even when you remember you’re positive, it’s no longer an issue.


The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

The iconic UK AIDS Quilt in memory of lives lost is going on display for first time in 20 years

For the first time in 20 years, the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display to the public at St Paul’s Cathedral, and then at community venues across London, to commemorate the lives of those lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Positively UK is proud to be part of the coalition of charities that have worked to display this irreplaceable piece of international social history.

UK AIDS Memorial Quilt

Hundreds of individuals made quilt panels in memory of loved ones who had died from AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, inspired by a global project that started in America.

The UK quilt panels will be on display at the Cathedral on 23 November, ahead of the AIDS Quilt Trail which takes place across London on the weekend of 3 and 4 December, where people can see the quilts for free at a range of community venues.

Alongside George House Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, Positive East, The Food Chain, and Sahir House, with support from Elton John AIDS Foundation and Gilead, we hope the exhibitions will help remember those lost, raise awareness of HIV to younger generations and help find a permanent home for the UK quilt to ensure its preservation.

The Quilts, on display to coincide with World AIDS Day, reminds us how far the UK has come in the fight against HIV.

HIV no longer stops those living with the virus leading long and healthy lives – but there is still much to be done to tackle stigma, stop transmission and diagnose the 1 in 6 who are unaware they have the virus.

To get involved on social media, use the hashtag #AIDSQuiltUK

UK AIDS Memorial Quilt

Artist Grayson Perry, who is supporting the AIDS quilt project said:

“Collectively, the quilts are part of the largest piece of community art in the world – which shows just how important they are to our social history, and how special this event is.

“Thousands of people died from AIDS here in the UK at the start of the epidemic, and displaying this quilt coming up to World AIDS Day is a way to remember them and to reflect on how far we have come since the 1980s in the fight against HIV, thanks to incredible medical advances.

“I’m delighted to support the fantastic work the coalition of charities is doing to preserve this intensely moving piece of art and encourage everyone to witness this important moment in history.”

Jay Rayner, restaurant critic, writer and broadcaster, added:

“The Aids epidemic and the appalling number of lives taken by it was all too often portrayed in the media as being about a faceless mass of unknown people.

“In truth, of course, it was an all too large patchwork of individual stories; of real people with names and lives, with loved ones and families and careers and talents never quite allowed to reach fruition. How better to represent that than through the Aids quilt, which gives individuality back to so many people who risked becoming mere statistics?

“It is both work of art and a vital social document, and I wholeheartedly give my support to the coalition of charities and it’s ceaseless work to make sure the quilt finds the home it so richly deserves.”


Dealing with a Recent Diagnosis

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Dear Jim

Sam writes:

Dear Jim,
I was recently diagnosed with HIV, started my meds straight away and thought I was doing OK. But I’m not sure how well I’m really dealing with it or how I’m supposed to feel.
Can you advise?

Dear Sam,

These days because modern HIV meds are so good, more people living with HIV than ever before are living healthily and able to continue life much the same as before we were diagnosed. As long as we pop those pills every day and take reasonable care of our bodies, there’s no reason why we can’t live a completely normal lifespan. This is great news of course, and for some of us this is where the story ends. We just get on with life, put it behind us and don’t worry about it. After all, it’s just a virus and the meds are taking good care of that. End of.

But like many things in life, it’s not always that simple. We might struggle to accept what’s happened, feel full of confusion about the impact it’s going to have on our lives and are worried about the future. After the numbing shock of it so many questions come flooding into our minds. Who am I going to tell? How will it affect my relationships? What about my family? All this can feel overwhelming. When I was diagnosed two and half years ago the first thing I did was go out and start drinking in a soho bar (which trust me is not a good idea after a large shot of Penicillin). By the time my mate finally turned up, I was a shivering mess in the corner.

The thing is, there is no set way we are meant to feel after a diagnosis. Everyone’s circumstances, reactions and ways of dealing with it are different. In my work at Positively UK, some people have come to me saying that they feel OK but that somehow they feel they shouldn’t and instead are waiting for some kind of ‘crash’. Perhaps this reflects the negativity and very real past horrors around HIV and AIDS that still sit in our collective conscience, and which then bump up against the new brighter realities of Anti Retroviral Therapy and undetectable viral loads. I guess we still can’t help asking ourselves the question: ‘is this really not going to kill me?’

But then some of us really do go through some sort of crash, especially if our lives weren’t going that swimmingly before the diagnosis and indeed might have contributed to why we got infected. Feelings of low self-esteem, guilt or shame – which we may have been feeling for years anyway around our sexuality – can be made worse by the HIV. But this is also where it can be something of a wake-up call, a realization that we need to deal with stuff and make changes in our lives. So a new diagnosis can give us a positive opportunity to face up to things we might have been avoiding. In my case, my working life had lost direction and I decided to get some life coaching. It really helped to bring some focus back into my life which I’m not sure I would have done without the diagnosis.
So what would I advise? Here are the 5 most important things I tell people who are recently diagnosed:

Get the right medical care

You will more than likely have been diagnosed in a sexual health or GUM clinic and will continue to get your care there, but in the NHS you can go to any clinic you like and where you think you’ll get the best service. If you’re not happy at the way you’re being treated, you can just go somewhere else. And as you’ll be having your bloods taken every few months as well as collecting your pills, you’ll want the experience to be as easy and painless as possible.

Get yourself informed

Many of us didn’t know much about HIV before we were diagnosed and we certainly didn’t get taught about it at school. Getting ourselves educated about HIV gives us the confidence to be able to ask our healthcare providers the right questions and helps to re-assure our loved ones that we’re going to be OK. Be wary of Google searches – there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Your clinic or an HIV charity can point you in the right direction.

Don’t rush out and tell everyone

Once we’ve had the news, we immediately start thinking about who we are going to tell, how we’re going to tell them, or how on earth we’re going to keep it secret. Of course we will more than likely want to tell someone. But remember there is no legal obligation to tell anyone (except in very limited circumstances) and once you’ve told them, you can’t undo it. Better to do it gradually, and get yourself ready and informed so that you you’ll be OK when the barrage of questions come your way.

Get support and talk to others living with HIV – don’t isolate yourself.

It’s good if you can tell at least someone you trust, because you’ll feel the relief of sharing the burden and getting some emotional support. Even better, talk to others you know who are living with HIV and if you don’t know anyone then ask your clinic whether they have or know of any peer support services. Positively UK offers one to one and group support to gay men right across London as well as Recently Diagnosed weekend workshops. There are lots of us around that have been through the stuff you’re going through and can share the benefit of our experience.

Remember, you’re still the same person

Being diagnosed with HIV does marks a milestone in our lives and this undoubtedly has an impact on how we feel about ourselves. To start with it might feel like the world has caved in and we struggle to think about much else other than what’s happened. But soon enough we realise that we still enjoy going out with our mates and all the other things we enjoyed in our pre HIV life. So don’t be hard on yourself, just take things one day at a time.

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like answered around living with HIV, please email jfielder@positivelyuk.org


Proudly Undetectable and Challenging HIV Stigma

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

This year at Pride in London Positively UK will be marching under the theme of
Proudly Undetectable“.

The national HIV support charity have chosen this focus as public awareness of the modern face of HIV has failed to catch up with the rapid developments in HIV medication over recent years. “Many people are unaware of these advances, unaware of the fact that so many of us living with HIV now have levels of the virus that are so low they are considered ‘undetectable’ and that because of this we are unable to pass the virus on to others” says Jim Fielder of Positively UK. “Many of those who seek support from us after a recent diagnosis, not only feel better physically but feel so much better in themselves, mentally, when they become undetectable.

The charity believes raising awareness about undetectability and the effectiveness of modern HIV treatments has a huge role to play in reducing the fear of HIV, encouraging more people to get tested and reducing transmission rates.

Of course, there are some of us for a variety of reasons for whom it is difficult or impossible to reach an undetectable viral load. Scientists are continually working to better understand why this is the case. Positively UK will continue to challenge the fear and stigma that can affect all people living with HIV and continue to make that despite the excellent medications available, people still need support in managing HIV long-term.


Cristian’s Story

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

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Cristian

 

Watch Cristian talk about his story

 


Mario’s Story

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

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personal-stories-men

Mario

I moved to this country approximately 6 years ago and work as a nurse for the NHS in a very prestigious London hospital. I have lived most of this time in south west London where a big part of the gay community use drugs or ‘chemsex’ as a way of meeting people and having some fun. I went down that path where I would take some drugs and go looking for sex in saunas, at sex parties – I did it all, on a couple of occasions I took P.E.P.

My relationship with drugs and sex got out of hand and started to affect to my work, my relations with friends and family and also my self-respect and well-being. At the last sex party I went to I met the person who is now my partner. We both agreed to start dating and try to leave the drugs and sex party scene. I then received a text from an old sex partner who told me he had been exposed to an STI (gonorrhoea) so my partner and I went to get tested and in my case, treated, as I had been directly exposed.

I booked an appointment while my mother was visiting me in the country so the 3 of us went there together for what I thought would be a quick injection and a quick HIV test that would show I was negative, like it had done many times before.

I remember when the nurse told me it was a reactive test, I felt shivers all over my body. Suddenly I felt scared for my future, worried for this new person in my life and worried for my job situation. I felt numb. I hoped it was a false positive so when they did the confirmation test I started crying and went and look for my mother who was in the waiting room. I knew quickly I had to get it off my chest before it become something hard – like coming out to your parents. She hugged me and told me she loved me and that everything was going to be OK.

Seconds after this I went to look for my partner who was getting tested and I found him crying and asked me if I was ok. I understood then that he had also been told he was positive. We hugged and kissed and this almost instantly made us stronger in our relationship.

In the clinic we went to, they informed us about this group called Gay Talk where newly diagnosed people with HIV get support and information about this chronic condition. I went there and met other people on the same page. It felt a relief that I wasn’t alone in this situation, I got a lot of information, met new people, and the experience made me feel more comfortable with the changes I needed to make in my life.

Not long after this my partner and I went into treatment, and we are both now undetectable which is the aim for all of us. Living with HIV has made us more aware of the changes we needed to make in our lives.

I went back to the gym, have become stronger and feel better about myself. I feel very connected with my partner in every way as we have developed a new level of trust and strength because of all we went through together. My relationships with friends and family have gone back to ‘point A’ and I am happier that I have been in the last 6 years. This is also reflected in my work situation – everyone has noticed the change.

I guess that contracting HIV was what I needed for me to reconsider what I was doing with my life and working on myself. I feel happier and better, more confident and balanced that I did before. In a strange way being positive has saved me from myself.


Jamie’s Story

Friday, March 25th, 2016

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Jamie

 

Watch Jamie talk about his story

 

It was November 2014, and the Terrence Higgins Trust were doing a drive on Facebook for home testing kits for HIV. I’ve always practised safe sex, but like to get tested every 6 months, because accidents happen. Very soon it became all too evident that an accident had happened. I got a call late on a Monday night telling me there had been ‘a detection’ and I needed to go for a confirmatory test.

I went to my local clinic, but when it came to the test it’s all a bit blurry. All I remember is that I never saw that dot appear… that dot that would result in some major hurdles and challenges in my life. I didn’t see it because the last thing I saw before tears blurred my vision was the doctor looking up at me with an expression that said it all. I fell to pieces.

That night I called a close friend and told her. She reminded me that my father would always be my greatest supporter and that parents want to be able to worry about their kids, so I phoned my dad next. He remained true to form as an amazingly supportive father!

That weekend I attended a workshop for the recently diagnosed at Positively UK. I entered the workshop an emotional wreck and left full of optimism and lust for life. In the New Year I started treatment. I had not been receiving the best treatment at my clinic, and as Positively UK had explained, I was in charge of my treatment, so I moved my treatment to a clinic in London. Due to my lifestyle and career there were only a few options open to me. So my doctor had to go to the virtual clinic, a counsel of doctors, to put my case forward to get authorisation to give me the treatment I wanted. I got permission, but on that same day a new drug became available in the UK that had great results in Europe, so I took it.

Treatment brought few side effects; some mild tiredness and nausea if I took it without food. It’s all about planning. In just over 3 weeks I was undetectable. I felt free; my fears of transmitting were gone – My fear of dating and disclosing not so much so. I dreaded having to disclose my status to people and what their reactions would be. It wasn’t long however until I found my resilience and realised, I’m a romantic… and if someone loves me, they’ll want me ‘warts’ and all. I realised I didn’t want to limit my window of partners to just positive guys, someone amazing might be negative and love me how I am.

I’ve been on quite a few dates since then and found that it’s not much different than before. I’m ready to discuss my status when it’s time and if they can’t handle it, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve been positive since November 2014 and I can tell you that my life has never been so ‘positive’. I’ve got an amazing support system which has resulted in amazing friendships and ultimately I am lucky, in that I can say my HIV hasn’t affected my life in a negative way. I’m alive, I’m happy and I’m too stubborn to quit!


Ismael’s Story

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Ismael

Hi I’m Ismael, and I’ve been HIV positive since 2013. I had the news when I was doing my twice yearly routine blood test. I didn’t know what HIV meant at that time. So I had to learn what´s that? And how to deal with it. Not a big deal, but definitely something really new for me. I’d never heard about it, and nobody had talked to me about it before.

In my case the first people I told were my flatmates, and my closest friends. I didn’t tell anyone from my family because I didn’t want to worry them then – that’s the last thing I wanted for them or for myself.

My life didn’t change at all. I just had to take the medication to keep the virus quiet in my body and obviously look after myself better – such as making nice meals, practicing more sport, resting properly, and having good habits in general. These are things that I was doing already, so there wasn’t much to change to my routine.

Then, came the moment to choose the right medication for me. In my case I’m taking Kivexa and Sustiva once a day, before I go to bed, because probably it helps me fall asleep and if I’m going to feel a bit dizzy, it’s better to take it before sleeping. It’s good take them around the same time every night.

Also, I’m going to mention all the support I got from Positively UK. I could say some names, but I won’t for professional and personal reasons. But I really appreciated it. Since I started to enjoy the Gay Talk group, I’m stronger and even more open minded about the HIV.

If I say the word: Sex, don’t be scared AT ALL. The gay community knows about HIV very well, and most of them are not afraid to have good sex with people with HIV. What I do, if I see like I’m going to have sex with someone, I feel free to say, I’m HIV positive. I prefer be honest from the start so as not to have surprises later or maybe make the other person uncomfortable. Also, not far from this point, if your condom breaks and you think you might have had exposure to the virus, you can go to the hospital – even after two or three days – and get something called PEP which you take for 28 – 30 days: it will destroy the virus in your body.

At the beginning I had my bloods taken every three months, but once the results were going well, then I started to have bloods taken every 6 months together with 6 months’ supply of medication. That helps a lot. It makes it possible to travel.

So, yes, yes, yes!! Life is still beautiful with or without HIV. And now also, I’m planning to move abroad, so new adventures are coming for sure and I’m really up for that.

What I have learnt from all this is to be HAPPY always.

Never give up and always SMILE


Roland’s Story

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

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Roland

 

Watch Roland talk about his story

 

I was given my diagnosis on 1 September 2006. My partner had to give me the diagnosis. I was given two weeks to live. I was HIV+. I had AIDS. My AIDS-defining illness was Progressive Multi-focal Leukoencephalytis, a brain disease.

The first person I told was my partner’s closest friend. I wanted him to have somebody around him who would know in case something happened to me. She was fine. She was informed. She reassured me that she would make sure my partner was OK. I told my partner that I had told her.

I had no choice about starting treatment. As my carer, initially my partner had to make sure I took the right medication at the right time. It was a struggle at first, but now it is almost second nature. I’m on my 7th regime, due to side effects of the other six. I’ve now been on this one for almost three years and, most of the time, it seems to be going fine. I have been undetectable and with a CD4 count hovering around 600 for about 18 months. Something to be grateful for!

Being diagnosed has had a big impact – a positive (no pun!) impact. I do a fair amount of voluntary work in the HIV sector and I became Chair of the Disability Staff network at work. It has given me something useful and constructive to do and it has brought me into contact with so many wonderful, inspirational people, that I would never have come across before. So I am grateful.
I have had brilliant medical support. And support from organisations such as Positively UK, Terrence Higgins Trust, National Long Term Survivors’ Group, and others. And support from other HIV+ individuals along the way. From friends. And, most of all, from my partner. He has stuck with it, somehow. And for that too, I am grateful.

The things I am less grateful for? The dentist who refused to treat me; the ping-ponging backwards and forwards between my HIV specialist and GP; the knee-jerk reaction from the administration at work who suggested very strongly that I should take early retirement on medical grounds when I disclosed my status to them; the aches and the pains (but hey, I’m not getting any younger!); the sudden overwhelmingness of it all that still… occasionally… hits me.

But these things are minor, very minor, in return for still being alive. And still being grateful.


Stop HIV Cuts

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Positively UK are proud to be a part of the #StopHIVCuts campaign!

Stop HIV Cuts is a national campaign which aims to convince local and national government of the importance of HIV support services, and the need to commission them effectively and fund them adequately.

We are joined by a group of HIV organisations, service providers and community groups committed to ensuring the needs of people with HIV across the UK are comprehensively met and that the best possible results are achieved for physical health, mental health and social inclusion. We all believe that it is essential that HIV support services remain in place and are properly funded.

Nowhere in the country should be without access to high quality HIV support services for those who need them. This campaign in not arguing in any local area for any particular contract or any particular provider. It is arguing for a set of services and the vitally important outcomes they have been demonstrated to achieve.

 

Public Heath England’s Positive Voices survey found that over a third of people with HIV accessed HIV support services over a 12 month period. With over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, HIV support services are needed now more than ever.

HIV support services, often provided by voluntary sector organisations, provide much needed care for people with HIV around, for example, coping with a new HIV diagnosis, stigma and disclosure, safer sex, adherence to HIV treatment, mental health, social isolation, and wider social needs. They prevent serious ill-health, onward HIV transmission and severe social care need, so saving public money in the long term. Funding HIV support services should not be at the expense of HIV prevention and HIV testing. HIV support, HIV prevention, HIV testing all need adequate funding if we are to respond effectively to this serious epidemic.

Yet 2015 saw the start of a worrying trend of local authorities across the country totally defunding HIV support services. In Oxfordshire, Bromley, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Slough, Bracknell Forest and Bexley, the local councils are set to scrap this essential provision. Other councils threaten to cut funding to the point where meaningful provision is impossible.

These funding cuts are short-sighted and ill-thought through as they will ultimately lead to extra pressures on health and social care as people with HIV fall into acute need and crisis, as well as significant costs to the NHS from an increase in onward HIV transmission.

We are calling on as many organisations and individuals as possible to get behind our campaign to Support People with HIV: Stop the Cuts.

Get Involved!

Join us in writing to your local council leader making the case for HIV support services and asking what the council’s plans are for these services.

Email your local council leader now


Creative Writing, Drama and Poetry Workshops

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Women hold a wealth of knowledge through their experiences of living with HIV

However, there are few opportunities to hear stories from women about living with HIV and getting older

Come and explore exciting ways of sharing experiences and hearing others’

 

 

You will:

  • Have fun in a safe and welcoming space
  • Be part of a diverse group of women and a shared experience
  • Gain new skills and develop your talents
  • No experience necessary

Come along to our twice a month creative workshops at Positively UK, where we will be exploring new ways of sharing and discussing our diverse experiences of being women.

 

These workshops are open to women living with HIV of ALL ages

 

Place:

345 City Road, EC1V 1LR
it is a safe and supportive space

Dates:

28th January, 11th February, 25th February, 10th March,
17th March, 14th April, 28th April

Time:

6:00pm – 8:00pm

 

Who is involved:

Kat is a community theatre maker and lecturer at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She works collaboratively with community-based organisations to use creative ways to explore understandings of sex, sexuality and sexual health, using many different art forms.

Silvia is a woman living with HIV. She works at Positively UK as Deputy CEO leading on the policy and involvement work, ensuring people living with HIV are involved in decision making. Since 2004 she has been openly living with HIV because she believes it is a powerful way to challenge stigma against people with HIV.

Shema is an HIV specialist doctor and researcher at UCL whose main interest over the past ten years has been the health of women living with HIV. She is currently leading a nationwide research study (the PRIME Study) looking at menopause in women living with HIV.

Matilda has been involved with Positively UK for many years and has been a Trustee since 2013. She holds a BA in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education and an MA in Drama and Movement Therapy both at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and currently works as Freelance Drama therapist and HIV Youth consultant.

Helen is a woman living with HIV. She works at Positively UK as Women’s’ Project coordinator. Since 2002, Helen has been a dedicated promoter and advocate for integrated, culturally sensitive care and support for ensuring people living with HIV as well as empowering them in coping with their HIV diagnosis, treatment and adherence.


Women PrEPare

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Key findings in the report are:

  • Healthcare providers need to recognise all the factors that may affect access and adherence to medication; they should discuss the importance of adherence with women, refer women to peer support, and seek ways to help women take medication successfully.
  • Women want and need access to comprehensive and accurate information about the effectiveness of different types of treatment and prevention methods.
  • Women’s idea of “good HIV prevention” is something long-lasting, quick-acting, discreet and undetectable, that has few side effects and, importantly, does not interfere with sexual pleasure.
  • PrEP enables women to share the responsibility of HIV prevention with their partner(s). Women living with HIV do not want to be solely responsible for preventing transmission to their partners – shared responsibility is important.
  • Women do not know enough about PrEP or how it works. The majority of clinical research and advocacy has centred on gay men, and this lack of involvement in research has led to poor awareness and low engagement with PrEP activism.
  • Women only spaces and strong support networks and are vital in enabling women through effective management of HIV treatment and prevention.
  • Peer support is especially important, as it has a proven track record in helping people better understand and manage their HIV, as well as help them to talk about their HIV to others.

A new report looking at the findings and evaluation of the Women PrEPare workshop that took place in London in July 2015, bringing together 30 women living with HIV from around the UK to look at HIV treatment and its use in prevention and how it specifically affects women.

Women PrEPare came about following the findings from Positively UK women’s conference Women Know Best, which included a recommendation to community based organisations to: “provide opportunities for women to develop and improve treatment literacy and treatment advocacy skills, and emphasise the benefits of participating in medical and social research.”

The workshop, held at Positively UK’s head office in London, was supported by a small grant from AVAC – Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention. It was an exciting day of learning and discussion around HIV, antiretroviral drugs, and new prevention technologies such as Pre-Exposure Profilixis (PrEP), Treatment as Prevention (TasP), and microbicides.

The main aims of the day were:

  • to improve women’s understanding of HIV, ARVs, and new prevention technologies including TasP, PrEP and microbicides
  • to stimulate discussion around, and to identify, the role that new prevention technologies can play for women living with HIV in the UK
  • to increase women’s confidence and skills in advocating for and influencing the access to treatment and prevention agenda

The content and direction of the day was designed by a steering group of women living with HIV.

 

You can view and save the report as a PDF here.


Solidarity in support of gay and bisexual men

Monday, December 14th, 2015

If you’re living with HIV, some of the best people to talk to are other people living with the virus. Jim Fielder, Positively UK’s Gay Men’s Support Worker talks about the value of mentoring and how this is helping gay and bisexual men living with HIV in London

With 1 in 11 gay men in London living with HIV, we probably all know someone in our social circle living with the virus. But do we know who they are and have we ever talked about it with them? The answer to that, I suspect, would be far less definitive. The invisibility of HIV still reaches deep into society and into our own community. The impact this has on the rising numbers of us that are testing positive leaves many feeling unable to talk about it with our friends and loved ones and unable to find safe spaces to explore what it means to be living with HIV in 2015.

Positively UK has been providing peer mentoring support since 1987. I’ve been running the organisation’s first dedicated gay and bisexual men’s programme since May, thanks to three years of funding from the Big Lottery. Like all our frontline staff and mentors, I’m living with HIV myself (nearly two years and counting) so I have insight into what the guys who rock up at our door are going through. Having lived through an HIV diagnosis ourselves is the essence of our approach. As one of our service users has said: “would you want swimming lessons from someone that can’t swim? Or would you prefer to talk with someone who has done the walk?”

At the heart of what we do, therefore, is training up volunteers living with HIV to provide mentoring support. Clinics and hospitals are often too busy to do much more than get people tested and onto treatment, so our growing network of peer mentors provide the practical, emotional and social support that people often need following a diagnosis. We do this in two main ways; providing one-to-one talking support over a number of sessions, and then bringing people together in our Recently Diagnosed weekend workshops and at our Gay Talk Saturday group and social events.

Gay Talk in particular is popular and well attended because it provides that safe space for the guys to meet, to share and connect – and not just around our HIV. We understand that HIV is only one part of our lives and although it can feel like taking over for a while after a diagnosis, it doesn’t define who we are. That’s why we talk about people ‘living with HIV’ rather than ‘being HIV positive’. We believe there’s a difference. I try to think of the guys walking into our groups as men first and foremost, then gay or bi men and finally as men living with HIV. This helps us to see the layers of experience and issues that the guys bring to us and how these interconnect.

This is important because an HIV diagnosis rarely happens in isolation, instead happening within a context or set of circumstances – that may be a relationship breakdown, difficulties around chemsex, problems with work or housing, challenges around accepting sexuality. Some of these issues and their underlying causes may have lain dormant or been building for years, suddenly erupting to the surface following a positive HIV test. We might need to support a recently qualified foreign student who’s visa is about to run out and he can’t face returning home for fear of HIV related discrimination and violence; or an older man diagnosed for many years, who’s long term partner has died and he’s losing their home; or a young guy who’s just moved to the big city and quickly gets himself in too deep with the chems. As gay men who may have grown up in a suffocating environment, we rightly love the freedom and the anonymity that London provides, but the city can be an unforgiving place when we hit the skids.

At Positively UK we’ve been there, so we can help you navigate through the complexities of the day to day aspects of living with HIV; whether that’s accepting a new diagnosis, help with treatment and drug adherence, sex and relationships or disclosure and talking about HIV. Most importantly we are a listening ear, someone to talk to and connect with, fostering a kind of solidarity.

This article appeared in Boyz Magazine on 26th November 2015