Health

Facing old age with HIV

HIV has been transformed from a death sentence to a chronic condition in the decades since it was first diagnosed. While living long after you expected to die is a cause for celebration, it does bring its own problems, as Julian Hows explains.

I was in my thirties when I was diagnosed, back in 1990. Then there was no therapy, no effective treatment. I didn't know how long I had, but I knew it wouldn't be long. Friends were already dead.

I was a manager at British Telecoms, where I was building a career. Well, I just cashed in my pension and went travelling, determined to enjoy the time I had left.

I came back. Lo and behold, I wasn't dead. But I was sick, and had a very weakened immune system. Still alive, but still very aware that I had a disease which could well kill me before long.

Now I am 54, and still here. I do still have residual health problems, but the other pressing issue is how I will fund my future.

I left a good job in 1990 and used up my pension. I have been in and out of work, volunteering, freelancing, living on benefits.

Home fears

I changed my life plans because I thought I was going to die, and I certainly don't regret the things I have done. But there are issues that those with HIV who are my age are all facing and which haven't been sufficiently addressed.

We are the generation which saw HIV transformed from a death sentence into a chronic condition. If we keep going, it's not clear what we face in older age.

I have no pension now to speak of, so will be dependent on the state. If I go into a home, will they know and understand about having a resident with HIV?

It might all be fine, it might not. We just don't know.

As for the increase in the number of people my age being diagnosed for the first time with the disease, I do think it's time we got over our assumption that people that age don't have sex.

Mass media campaigns which show youngsters going out clubbing don't have any resonance with older people.

It's time for a more nuanced approach, because safe sex is important for all ages.

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