In 2012, two years after my diagnosis as HIV and Hep C positive, I was struggling to come to terms with my HIV. I turned to Silvia Petretti at Positively UK for support. This was a challenging time in my life. My CD4 count, the main indicator used to measure the health of an HIV positive person, had fallen. I had just commenced medication for my HIV. The stigma of HIV and Hep C co-infection was undermining my confidence. Her powerful advice helped me to overcome the pressures I was facing in my life. Stigma and isolation can impact everyone living with HIV, male or female, gay or straight.
Last month I hosted my first reception at the Houses of Parliament, along with my co-host, Silvia. It was in support of women living with HIV and drew a range of supporters, activists, press and politicians. I was honoured by the support the event received. Women living with HIV and politicians discussed the issues women living with HIV face. Kristina Rihanoff attended and we chatted about the importance of philanthropy. I told her about the factors impacting women living with HIV and explained what had compelled me to host the event. Anthea Turner looked sensational in white. Anthea was really interested to learn more about women and HIV. Lauren Pope wowed in a gorgeous ensemble. Lauren has attended all of my HIV events and is a great supporter of the LGBT community. Jaymi Hensley and I chatted about HIV. He has a friend who is HIV positive. We discussed the challenges an HIV diagnosis brings. The event was sponsored by Stuart Andrew MP. It would not have been possible without Stuart's support to host the event.
Of the 103,700 people living with HIV in the UK, 34,400 are women. They are in many ways the silent face of HIV. The purpose of the event was to highlight the issues women face and raise awareness for an often overlooked group. I was diagnosed with HIV in 2010, when I was 24. As a gay and HIV positive man I have encountered stigma. Gay men are one of the most empowered groups living with HIV. I went through an empowering process of acceptance around my HIV. I think it is incredibly important to show solidarity with other people living with HIV. Positively UK work, particularly through peer mentoring, to support women living with HIV. It was wonderful to work with them on this project. Silvia and I both gave speeches at the event, telling the audience about HIV, the challenges faced by women and the work of Positively UK.
A video accompanied the event, discussing the experiences of women living with HIV in the UK. I introduced the broader context and Silvia and two of the Positively UK peer mentors discussed living with HIV. Headline statistics used in the video included that 62 % of women living with HIV in the UK are of black African ethnicity and that women living with HIV are half as likely to be diagnosed if they live outside of London. However, the video's primary focus is the experience of women living with HIV, how they have dealt with stigma and empowering other women living with HIV. The video is included below.
Positively UK have produced an informative study around women and HIV, entitled "Women Know Best: What are the best practices in effective, high-quality HIV support for women in the UK?" [positivelyuk.org/wp-content/uploads/.../Women-Know-Best-Report_Final-Aug-15.pd...]. They identify a number of key issues affecting women living with HIV. There is a higher incidence of mental health issues for women living with HIV, compared to men living with HIV. Some women experience gender-based violence. Women may experience difficulties around pregnancy and motherhood. Ageing with HIV, poverty and financial instability and accessing healthcare services are also problematic. Women living with HIV have engaged less in research and also politically around HIV.
It is clear that more must be done to support and empower women living with HIV. As a gay man living with HIV, I am proud to show solidarity with women living with HIV.