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Health | HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence

This week I am in Washington DC speaking at a women’s entrepreneurial conference. It’s my first visit here, so I am very excited.


I am planing on running to The White House from my hotel later today before the events start this evening. It may be that is all I will have time for, but I cannot possibly be in Washington and not see The White House!


The night before I left, I took my children to the cinema to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, which we all thought was completely amazing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend going to watch it. It’s such a moving portrayal of the life of Freddie Mercury (original name, Farrokh Bulsara) and his genius talent with the band Queen.


What I loved about the movie was that you gained a real sense of how unique and confident he was in his own abilities and talent. He believed in himself fully which I found utterly inspiring. Being a child born in the 1970s, I could relate to so many things in the movie, such as the music, Live Aid, Top of the Pops etc.


If you were around then, you will also remember during the 1980s, that AIDS/HIV was a very feared disease that hit the headlines almost daily. When Freddie Mercury died from bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS, it shocked the nation and we lost a true legend. The sad thing is, if he contracted the disease now, it’s more than likely it could have been treated.


For the past 30 years it’s been a terrifying spectre that’s hung over the world, killing an estimated 39 million people. All that is changing now. Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, does not mean a death sentence anymore. In fact, most HIV positive people today who have access to modern medication are expected to live a normal lifespan.


Part and parcel with stigma is the idea that HIV/AIDS was a ‘gay disease.’ This has been a particularly difficult misconception to shake. AIDS was first discovered in gay men in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During these early years it was often referred to as the ‘gay cancer,’ which is such horrible terminology. By late 1982, however, the more accurate term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, was coined.


I only discovered today that one of the most striking developments in research was the functional curing of HIV in the ‘Berlin Patient’ who was born right here, in Washington. Timothy Ray Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and immediately began taking antiretroviral medication to suppress the virus.


In 2006, he was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent two bone marrow transplants in a Berlin hospital. His stem cell donors were known to have a resistance to HIV and after his treatment, he stopped antiretroviral therapy. Since then, his condition has remained stable and shows no sign of the virus in his system.


At the start of the epidemic, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was truly terrifying. Between 1988–1995, 78 per cent of people infected with the virus died from causes directly attributable to AIDS. That number is staggering and was largely responsible for the idea that an infection was a death sentence.


However, by the time we get to the period between 2005 and 2009, that number dropped to five per cent. Today, if a person with HIV begins antiretroviral medication early, they are expected to have a normal life span. Huge progress against one of the biggest killers of people living with AIDS has been made as the myriad of treatment advances, as well as widespread knowledge of the virus and how it’s transmitted has made the phrase ‘the end of AIDS’ a realistic goal. This was considered unthinkable even a decade ago.


Lifesaving medication is still far too expensive to be accessible to the vast majority of the world population. We need to do a lot more to make sure that such treatments are available to all, if we are going to see the end of this epidemic, however, we could live to see an AIDS- free generation if money and research continues this way over the next few years.




Posted in Lifestyle.