Talking About HIV

Receiving a positive HIV diagnosis can be devastating. If this is your situation, you may feel numb. You could, on the other hand, have so many thoughts whirling through your mind that it may be very difficult to decide what to do next. In the United Kingdom, GPs and HIV clinics offer access to psychological as well as medical support for HIV patients, therefore it's very important to listen to the advice of medical professionals who are trying to help you. They will inform you about your medical treatment options and will probably recommend that you consider telling other people about your diagnosis.

Fear And Prejudice

Many HIV sufferers are scared of telling friends and loved ones that they have the virus. They don't want to cause their families pain and may be worried by the prejudice regarding HIV and AIDS which does, unfortunately, still exist in today's society. HIV education has, however, improved dramatically in recent years. Many more people now understand that having HIV does not necessarily mean you lead a promiscuous lifestyle. More people also know that they can't catch the disease from you through normal day-to-day contact in the home or the office. Prejudice stems from fear and ignorance. If you are worried about the reaction of your family, friends and colleagues, the best thing you can do is become as informed as possible about your condition and treatment, and pass that knowledge on. HIV clinics and support groups provide information and counseling for the families and friends of HIV patients as well as the HIV sufferers themselves.

Your Rights

In the United Kingdom, you are protected by law against discrimination related to your HIV. At work, the Disability Discrimination Act entitles you to treatment equal to that of your colleagues. In order to rely on these laws, should it become necessary, you do have to tell your employer about your condition. Before starting that difficult conversation, you should discuss your options with your doctor or HIV support staff. They might be able to put you in touch with people in the same situation who have experienced what you're going through.

Your Responsibilities

Having unprotected sex when you know that you are HIV positive, but without telling your partner, is a crime under British law for which you could be prosecuted. You have a moral duty to inform your past and current sexual partners about the possibility that they may have been exposed to HIV, although no one can force you to do so. Understandably, this is a daunting prospect. You may have to make contact with partners with whom your relationship ended badly, perhaps even with someone you suspect may be responsible for transmitting the virus to you. It's a tough thing to do. For this reason, HIV clinics in the UK will give you the option of sending a ‘contact slip' to former partners which will inform them that they may have been exposed and they should come for testing. The slip won't show your name or address. You can, if you want, use the contact slip to tell your current partner as well, but you should consider the possible impact on your relationship of telling him or her in this way.

Consequences Of Not Telling

Keeping your diagnosis and treatment a secret will be a heavy burden and will probably affect your relationships with family, friends and colleagues - because you are going to need support. If you live with other people, it may be virtually impossible to hide the fact that you are taking medications. This doesn't mean that you should tell everyone you meet, but perhaps those people who are closest to you. As mentioned before, you are not obliged to make contact with your former sexual partners, but you should think carefully about whether or not you have the right not to tell them. If HIV is left untreated it is very likely to result in death. You are indirectly risking the life of that person, and every person he sleeps with, by not telling him that he needs to go for testing. An estimated 32 % of HIV carriers in the UK do not know they have the virus.

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