Alex Sparrowhawk, HIV advocate

Alex Sparrowhawk

@SparrowhawkAlex

I hooked up with a guy in 2009. A couple of weeks later I started feeling unwell, I had a cough that lasted a bit too long, so I went for a HIV test. The first one came back negative, the second did not.

When I got the message telling me to come back to clinic after my second test, I knew that something was wrong. I didn’t think they’d call me back in for a negative result. So, I contacted an ex-boyfriend who is HIV positive and he came to clinic with me.

Once I’d found out my diagnosis I had so many questions: “Am I going to get ill?”, “Am I going to have to quit work?”, “Will I ever have sex again?”. The clinic staff and my friend tried to reassure me, but nothing was going in. I was in shock.

It might sound weird to say, but looking back it’s probably the best time to be diagnosed with HIV right now. The medication is improving all the time. I didn’t let my diagnosis stop me from working, and I’ve been really lucky to have a good support network around me.

For me, what remains a problem is the stigma surrounding HIV. The comments below online articles about HIV, for instance, are horrendous. Thinking about when the Gareth Thomas story came out, hearing people talk about it in the pub I’d just think, “You’re clueless—you have no idea what having this virus means today.”

The reality of HIV today is that you take your treatment and for almost all people that makes you “undetectable” which means you’re now no longer able to pass the virus on to your sexual partners. It really is a confidence boost for a lot of people. It’s amazing we can stop transmission by getting people onto treatment.

HIV is just a tiny part of my daily routine now; I take my single pill at dinner time and that’s that. I forget about it until the next day. For some people, however, that pill is a daily reminded of the HIV that they’re struggling with – and those people need our extra support.

I think everyone should know that people who take their medication can’t transmit the virus to anyone else. We can have normal, healthy lives and do anything that anyone else can do. And I think you can only achieve that by being visible and talking about it – even if it’s just within your own social circle.

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