Telling their stories: speakers’ first-hand accounts of living with HIV

In a special talk for Year 9 pupils, two representatives of the Terrence Higgins Trust gave their own accounts of how they contracted HIV and how they have lived with it since.

Head of Pupil Development Sarah Westcott arranged the visit by the charity, as Year 9 have recently been exploring the topic of sex and relationships in their form groups and in year-group assemblies as part of their Personal Development Time scheme of work.

The trust was established in 1982 and named after Terry Higgins, who died in London that year and was among the first people in the UK known to have died from the AIDS virus. The charity’s speakers’ names were given as Alex and Carole.

""Dr Westcott said: “I learned a great deal from this visit and I am sure the boys did, too. Because these guests told their own stories, it was quite hard-hitting. Perhaps most striking was Carole, who was in her 50s when she was diagnosed. Ironically, she was working as a sexual health professional – lecturing others on what to do. She thought it didn’t apply for someone of her age – it felt disconnected from her demographic.

“One of the messages therefore was that it can happen to anyone: HIV/Aids doesn’t conform to the stereotypes, so all should be aware.”

The boys were told that 40,000 of the 102,000 people with HIV in the UK live in London.

""The presentation included information on the distinction between HIV (an infectious virus that attacks the immune system) and AIDS (which develops when HIV goes untreated and the immune system is weakened). It looked at the stigma, discrimination and prejudice which can affect people living with HIV.

It set out how transmission can be prevented, pointing out that people on effective HIV treatment cannot pass on the virus. The presentation also made clear that although HIV remains incurable, those with HIV can expect to live a fairly normal life, with a normal life expectancy, if they are receiving the right treatment.

The boys completed an evaluation form after the talk, reflecting on what they had learned. One wrote: “It was very eye-opening and I learned a lot about prevention and about how, with treatment, those with HIV can have a normal life expectancy. It is important to talk about the issues so people have a true idea. It de-bunked a lot of myths.”