Supporting Someone Living with HIV
Today let us also look at how then we can support those people living with HIV who confide in us for moral support. Many of us think they know about HIV therefore it would be easy to support someone living with it. But the truth is, knowing about it is different from living with it. Therefore, here a few helpful tips on things you can do to help a friend or loved one who has been recently diagnosed with HIV:
Talk - Be available to have open, honest conversations about HIV. Follow the lead of the person who is diagnosed with HIV. They may not always want to talk about it, or may not be ready. They may want to connect with you in the same way they did before being diagnosed. Do things you did together before their diagnosis; talk about things you talked about before their diagnosis. Show them that you see them as the same person and that they are more than their diagnosis.
- Listen - Being diagnosed with HIV is life-changing news but certainly not a death sentence. Listen to your loved one and offer your support. Reassure them that HIV is a manageable health condition. There are medicines that can treat HIV and help them stay healthy.
- Learn – The best way to support someone is getting the necessary knowledge and understanding of their situation. So, educate yourself about HIV: what it is, how it is transmitted, how it is treated, and how people can stay healthy while living with HIV. Having a solid understanding of HIV is a big step forward in supporting your loved one. This website is a good place to begin to familiarize yourself with HIV. Have these resources available for your newly diagnosed friend if they want them. Knowledge is empowering, but keep in mind that your friend may not want the information right away.
- Encourage treatment - Some people who are recently diagnosed may find it hard to take that first step to HIV treatment. Your support and assistance may be helpful. By getting linked to HIV medical care early, starting treatment with HIV medication, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), adhering to medication, and staying in care, people with HIV can keep the virus under control, and prevent their HIV infection from progressing to AIDS. HIV treatment is recommend for all people with HIV and should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis. Encourage your friend or loved one to see a doctor and start HIV treatment as soon as possible. If they do not have an HIV care provider, you can help them find one.
- Support medication adherence. It is important for people living with HIV to take their HIV medication every day, exactly as prescribed. Ask your loved one what you can do to support them in establishing a medication routine and sticking to it. Also ask what other needs they might have and how you can help them stay healthy.
- Get support. Take care of yourself and get support if you need it. Turn to others for any questions, concerns, or anxieties you may have, so that the person who is diagnosed can focus on taking care of their own health.
If you are the sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, you should also get tested so that you know your own HIV status. If you test negative, talk to your healthcare provider about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), taking HIV medicine daily to prevent HIV infection. PrEP is recommended for people at high risk of HIV infection, including those who are in a long-term relationship with a partner who has HIV. If you test positive, get connected to HIV treatment and care as soon as possible.
Over 200 000 people in Eswatini are living with HIV, so in a small population like ours, you may know someone who has the virus. If your friend, family member, or co-worker has been HIV-positive for some time and has just told you, here’s how you can be supportive:
- Acknowledge - If someone has disclosed their HIV status to you, thank them for trusting you with their private health information.
- Ask - If appropriate, ask if there’s anything that you can do to help them. One reason they may have chosen to disclose their status to you is that they need an ally or advocate, or they may need help with a particular issue or challenge. Some people are public with this information; other people keep it very private. Ask whether other people know this information, and how private they are about their HIV status.
- Reassure- Let the person know, through your words or actions, that their HIV status does not change your relationship and that you will keep this information private if they want you to.
- Learn – Continue to educate yourself about HIV. Today lots of people living with HIV are on ART and have the virus under control. Others are at different stages of treatment and care. Don’t make assumptions and look to your friend for guidance.
Always Remember: Nobody has the right to disclose another person’s HIV status besides themselves. If someone trusts you with their private information, you carry the responsibility to keep it private until that person is ready to disclose to others. Have a great weekend, see you again next week!