I remember the first AIDS patient I met. The name would change but the story remains the same. A woman, mid-twenties. Gaunt, emaciated, and covered with her own filth. Gradually getting sicker over the preceding months, deep down knowing her fate. She was brought in at the very last moment. In Lesotho in 2004, funeral insurance was more readily available than health insurance. When she died, the policy would pay out and her medical bills would be paid. A young mother, contracting HIV from her miner husband, and having no access to anti-retrovirals. He would contract HIV from the local hookers, be covered by his company and get the right medicines, come home, be reunited with his wife and sentence her to death.
For many of us who remember the eighties, HIV/AIDS was a gay plague. In part compounded by it’s previous names such as Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID). I remember footage of Lady Di shaking hands with AIDS patients as if to prove that it can’t be caught through everyday contact. There was a time when people thought you could get HIV from toilet seats and books.
In 2014 there are 35 million people living with HIV. Those most at risk are drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. In the 1980s, people would avoid getting tested as they saw little point in knowing the diagnoses. Now, a lot of people have forgotten that diagnosis is even possible.
In the UK, HIV/AIDS is rapidly becoming a long term illness. Many of the people I meet with HIV/AIDS will live relatively normal lives, with regular medication and specialist care. The important thing is to get diagnosed. Prompt diagnosis, effective treatment and good clinical care will lead to good outcomes. If only the people in Lesotho were as lucky.