‘My life is no different to yours’: Lincoln man shares HIV story to reduce stigma

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A Lincoln man announced his positive HIV result on Facebook as a way of reducing the stigma around the virus.

Andrew Gámez-Heath, who lives in Lincoln with his husband Ricardo, was diagnosed with HIV three years ago, but in a bid to reduce the stigma officially announced his diagnosis on November 25, 2017.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

Andrew (left) with his husband Ricardo

After going for a routine sexual health screening in London, where he used to live in Soho, Andrew found out the terrifying news that he was HIV Positive, describing it as the day his ‘life was turned upside down’.

Andrew described the moment he found out: “I had given the routine urine sample and headed through to a room with a nurse for my finger prick hiv test.

“We chatted about the HIV test and I remember saying I couldn’t believe how quick it was these days to test.

“Not for one minute was I worried about the result. For me it was just a rountine check and I would be in and out within five minutes.

“It was at that moment the nurse looked at me and said: ‘ok, so this test has come back reactive’. ‘Whats does reactive mean’ as I stared at the 2 dots on the test display membrane.

“‘It means you are HIV positive and we need to do another blood test for definite confirmation.’ At that moment my world fell apart.

“I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. I genuinely thought my life was over. I was given a lot of reasurance and facts that day.

“The first thing I remember them telling me is that it wasnt going affect my life span.”

Over the next few days, Andrew had further blood tests and within four weeks started taking medication for the virus.

Andrew added: “I just have to take one tablet a day and then my virus is suppressed so I can’t pass it on.”

Destroying the stigma

Now Andrew is determined to offer support and advice for people diagnosed and reduce the stigma found with HIV.

He said: “I moved back to Lincoln and found Positive Health, a sexual health charity offering support and social care to people diagnosed with HIV in Lincolnshire.

“I applied to work there and was offered a job and now work there full time doing social care, outreach, HIV testing workshops in schools.

“The biggest stigma when it comes to the virus is the fear of it.

“People are scared of it as they only remember the tombstone advert and the information that was given back in the 80s and 90s. Things have changed so much since then.

“HIV does not define who I am and never will.

“I’m happy, healthy, my virus is undetectable and I cant pass it on. My life is no different from yours!”