Living with HIV
People living with HIV can live long, full, and healthy lives
There is a perception among some people today that HIV is no longer a problem, and that they’re unlikely to get it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Yes, treatment for HIV has massively improved over the past number of years, but the virus itself is still pretty common, and it’s still as important as ever to practice safer sex all the time, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation. People living with HIV face a lot of specific challenges that are related to the stigma surrounding the virus. It’s really important that everyone works to reduce the stigma around HIV, and support people living with HIV.
One of the biggest myths to break down around HIV is the idea that it is a death sentence - that people living with HIV cannot have the same quality of life as everyone else. The treatment available now means that people living with HIV live long, full, healthy lives. They have love lives, sex lives, many friendships, and fulfilling careers, just like everyone else. There are specific challenges people living with HIV do face, but lots of these are more on account the stigma and discrimination they may face than the virus itself. If you’re living with HIV, here are some tips as to how to cope with these challenges.
Who and when you decide to tell about your HIV status is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. It’s really down to the situation, and what you feel comfortable with personally. Legally, you're not obliged to tell anyone about it. In a medical capacity, it’s advisable that you let your health care provider know your status, to make sure you get the best care for your needs.
In terms of relationships, it really depends on you and your partner. If you always use condoms and are on medication, there isn’t much of a risk of you transmitting the virus to them, but you may want to let them know your status anyway. At what stage you tell them is up to you, and what you think would be suitable. It can be quite stressful telling people about your HIV status, and your local HIV clinic will be able to offer support and counselling around this.
You’re not legally obliged to disclose your HIV positive status to your employer, and they cannot legally discriminate you on grounds of your HIV status - you’re protected under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004.
It’s possible when applying for a job that you’ll be asked whether you have an illness that may impact your ability to work. However, most people living with HIV will be able to have perfectly full work lives that aren’t affected by the virus. If you feel that your current health is fine and unlikely to impact your work, then you shouldn’t feel any need to disclose your HIV status.
It is worth noting, however, that if you work in any surgical practice or midwifery, it’s considered essential to disclose your status.
There are some educational institutions that will seek an informal medical history on application forms, usually to help those institutions provide any support that students might need. You can’t be discriminated against because of your HIV status in relation to access to education, under the Equal Status Act 2000 and 2004.
If you are living with HIV, you have every right to be treated the same as all other patients - there is no reason why you should ever be made to feel different from other people receiving the same service. All healthcare workers are obliged to make sure there’s no cross infection of viruses between patients, and it’s not your responsibility to manage this. All health care workers should follow best practice, and you are not obliged to behave any differently in a healthcare context because of your HIV status.
As such, you’re never obliged to disclose your HIV status to medical professionals. However, it’s generally believed that disclosing your status will ensure you get the best quality of care, that is suited to your particular needs. It's also worth noting that if you're on medication for HIV, there are certain medications that may work against your HIV medication. If a healthcare professional is prescribing you any medication or herbal remedies, it's best you disclose your HIV status in those circumstances.
In Ireland, all HIV treatment is provided totally free of charge, whether you are working or not. You may decide to go for private health care instead, for which there will be consultancy charges, but your medication will be free of charge either way.
If you’ve been treated unfairly because of your HIV status, this can be pretty hurtful and upsetting. Talk to your mates, a support worker, or a counsellor about it - this can really help to work through the hurt.
If you’ve been harassed or physically assaulted, it might be worthwhile pursuing a more formal response. If it happens in a workplace, talk to the manager and make a complaint. In some cases, it can be a good idea to report it to the Gardai. You are covered under the Equal Status Act and it might be worth going forward with a complaint to the Equality Tribunal.
There are plenty of things that can affect your mental health, and your HIV status might be just one of them. If you’re feeling down and are struggling with depression or anxiety, you should talk to your GP, HIV doctor, or social worker. There are so many treatments and support options available to you, and you’re bound to find one that suits your needs. You may be referred to a counsellor, prescribed anti-depressants, or recommended some more holistic treatments. Either way, the treatment option you go with is completely up to you.
Even when your mental health is in a good state, it’s important to look after it to make sure it stays in good nick. Do little things every single day that make you happy and that improve your mood.
Exercise and diet
If you’re living with HIV, a healthy diet and lifestyle are a huge benefit to your health and well-being. Check out our tips on healthy living here.
It’s really important that you take your medication, strictly as prescribed by your doctor. People living with HIV live healthy, full and long lives now, but that is reliant on taking medication exactly as prescribed. Talk to your doctor about this to make sure exactly how much to take and when - and if you have any questions, make sure you ask!
Drugs and alcohol
It’s highly recommended that HIV positive people avoid recreational drugs and cigarettes altogether, and keep alcohol intake to a minimum. If you find it tough to limit your drug and alcohol intake, check out some advice here.
When travelling, make sure you bring more medication than you need for your planned stay, just in case you get delayed, and always carry it in your hand luggage. It’s also a good idea to carry an official prescription with you, in case you need to present it at customs, or need to purchase any refills while you’re away.
It's also worth noting that there are certain countries that you can be refused entry to if you are HIV positive. Remember to check before you travel to a country, to see if they have any restrictions.