Giving your support to people living with HIV encourages people to get tested and treated – and helps prevent the spread of HIV. This article explains how your support and understanding can make a difference.
“I will never forget what happened the night we broke the news,” recalls Mdm Tan of the time she and her husband told their children of their HIV status.
Their youngest daughter ran away from home that very night, worried about getting infected while their eldest daughter kept herself and her family away from them. Their son was made to choose between his wife and them, and eventually left the country to escape the mounting pressure.
Her story is not unusual. Mdm Tan and others who are living with HIV readily admit that life is never the same and never easy after finding out their HIV status. Aside from being worried about their health, they often confess to a bigger, more immediate fear – being rejected by their loved ones and by society. The fear of rejection is sometimes so strong that it stops people from getting tested and treated, inevitably increasing the risk of the spread of HIV.
If people living with HIV have the support and understanding of their loved ones, they can continue living happy and productive lives. Similarly, if people who are thinking of getting tested have the support and encouragement from the people they love, they will more likely go for testing, and potentially put a stop to the spread.
Common misconceptions and misunderstandings
Many tend to reject people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) because of their misconceptions about how it is transmitted. They don’t want to be around PLHIV because they believe that they are at risk of being infected.
Being in the same room, sharing a seat or shaking hands with a person living with HIV/AIDS will not lead to you contracting the Virus. (Learn more about how HIV is transmitted). Most people are also unaware that it can take up to 10 years before HIV develops into AIDS. Early detection and treatment is therefore vital in delaying the onset of AIDS and strengthening the immune system. (Read more on myths about HIV and AIDS)
With a better understanding of transmission modes and treatment options, it is possible to increase accepting attitudes towards PLHIV.
When he was only 25 years old, Mr Ong accompanied a friend who wanted to take the HIV test. Ironically, his friend tested negative, and he, positive. He was devastated, “I didn’t know what to do.” He rang another friend who, without hesitation, cancelled all plans to be with him and provided him with support.
Within a week of testing positive, Mr. Ong started treatment. Seven years on, Mr Ong manages his health with proper medication and regular visits to his doctor. He has also re-established his career with an employer who understands that an employee living with HIV can still contribute to the company.
Life is not easy for a PLHIV and rejection from friends and family can make it worse. By giving PLHIV your support and understanding, you can help them get back on track to lead strong and fulfilling lives.
When news of Mdm Tan’s HIV status reached her friends and family, she was avoided like the plague. “I was very depressed at that time, and my heart was filled with anger and bitterness. I had no one to turn to at all.” Eventually, Mdm Tan found a support group of volunteers who visit and listen to her every week. She believes that their support has made things more manageable and less daunting.
Both Mr Ong and Mdm Tan have emerged from their HIV positive diagnosis mentally and physically strong because of the care and support they receive from those around them: family: friends: employer: people like you and me.
What to do if you suspect you have HIV
When you suspect you have HIV, it’s easy to imagine the worst. The only way to tell if you have HIV is by taking a HIV test. It detects the presence of antibodies produced by the body in response to HIV. (What are the symptoms of HIV?)
The earlier HIV is detected, the greater the chances that treatment can delay the onset of AIDS and assure your continued quality of life.
Getting tested also means being socially responsible, since this prevents you from unknowingly spreading HIV to others, especially your loved ones.
If you engage in activities that increase your exposure to HIV, you are encouraged to get tested at least once every 12 months and more often if you have multiple sex partners over the course of one year.
HIV screening can be done at Polyclinics, Private Clinics and hospitals. Anonymous HIV testing is offered by Action for AIDS at the DSC clinic and at designated GP clinics. You don’t need to give your name, NRIC number or contact information at the anonymous test sites. Therefore, you can be assured of a high level of privacy and confidentiality about your HIV status. All HIV test results are kept strictly confidential. (Learn more about Anonymous HIV Testing)
With early detection and appropriate treatment, individuals can continue enjoying fulfilling and productive lives. If you suspect you have HIV, take the first step – get yourself tested. (Get tested for HIV in minutes) If you suspect a friend or loved one might have been exposed to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, encourage them to get tested as well and show your support regardless of the outcome.
To find out more about “Getting to Zero”, visit the 8th Singapore AIDS Conference 2012 website.