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Busting the myths around HIV
AFTER years of public education programmes and thousands of news stories and documentaries about HIV/Aids there remain at least two widely-held misconceptions about the disease.
The first is the notion it almost exclusively affects gay men and drug users.
The second is the assumption and HIV diagnosis amounts to a death sentence.
It’s true, statistically, a larger percentage of those in the young, gay male and African populations have HIV than other demographics.
However, data from Public Health England reveals an increase in the number of cases of HIV across Essex last year, with older people, white heterosexuals and women among those most prone to infection.
One person in every 1,000 in Colchester, and one in every 2,000 in Tendring, is estimated to have HIV.
Dr Malaki Ramogi, leading HIV/Aids consultant with Colchester’s hospital trust, is keen to debunk the myths about HIV – not least assumptions about the life-expectancy of those who are diagnosed.
Dr Ramogi said: “There is still a lot of stigma attached to HIV and this is probably the biggest issue. Even among friends, family members, perhaps even some healthcare workers, who are not used to it.
“The stigma often tends to be people’s biggest worry.
“However, as time has gone by, the stigma had reduced. People are now finding it easier to discuss their status to those close to them.
“Generally speaking, the treatment has improved significantly.
“Whenever we speak to people we emphasise the benefits.
“Most people who die are the ones who are unaware of their condition. The chance of living a long and healthy life is almost as good as those who test negative.
“If someone is infected and takes no medication they will be dead within ten years.
“If they are tested, their life can be saved. It is much better to know, but unfortunately, people are still dying because they miss the opportunity to be tested and get treated early enough.
“One of the key benefits of being tested and knowing your status is there’s overwhelming evidence if you are on treatment and the treatment is working, your risk of passing on the infection to someone else is extremely low.”
Dr Ramogi says another problem is misunderstandings about the way the disease can be passed on.
He explained: “People diagnosed with HIV worry about sharing hugs or kisses or playing with children and these are myths we are trying to correct.
“You can’t pass on the infection by these means.”
Treatment has vastly improved in recent years. In north Essex, patients are usually seen by a doctor within 48 hours of testing positive.
Dr Ramogi said: “In terms of treatment, the choice depends on the individual, but generally, most patients take a single tablet once a day, or sometimes two.
“Six or seven years ago, it was three or four tablets, several times daily, but the medication has been simplified.
“The side-effects have also reduced, which is another anxiety for people when they are first diagnosed. We rarely see any of the problems we used to see.”
The key messages for anyone who thinks they may have been is simple: Get tested.
Essex County Council is now responsible for testing. Ann Naylor, county councillor for health, said: “Public Health England data highlight the fact too many people are unaware of their infection.
“About half of people newly diagnosed in 2012 were identified late.
“People living with HIV can expect a near-normal lifespan and better clinical outcomes if they are diagnosed promptly.
“We have recently completed a comprehensive sexual health needs assessment which will contribute to reshaping services across the county, so the right services are in place and accessible for those most at risk.”
- To book an HIV test contact Colchester General Hospital on 01206 744459, ask your GP, visit Essex County Council's website or request a self-sampling kit online at the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
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