Peter Butler, one of our HIV Clinical Nurse Specialists, has been working as a nurse in HIV care for 25 years and currently works at Cobridge Community Health Centre. Here he shares his story with us about working in HIV treatment and care, and the massive advancements which have been made, meaning people can live a long and healthy life with HIV.
“I started working as a nurse in HIV in East London when the infection first started to become prevalent. Working in HIV at this time was challenging as the prognosis was poor, which caused panic and fear.
Since the 1980s we have made massive advancements in the treatment and management of people with HIV infection. When an HIV positive individual takes medication as prescribed, they can reach a point when they have an “undetectable viral load”, which means that there is no active virus in their blood, and people’s immune system remains healthy. This means if people take antiretroviral medication early, they are expected to have normal life span. This obviously depends on you being aware of your diagnosis and having access to treatment. HIV can be easily identified with a blood sample from the arm or a fingerprick test. If you test positive, you will be supported and managed by staff at the Cobridge clinic.
For me, HIV has been a difficult and challenging field to have worked in. In the past we all felt a profound sense of loss, but today we have opportunities to grow and develop together. Clients with HIV are physically very well, often confident and looking forward to the future. They are in relationships, having careers and families. The work we do now is about planning for the future and supporting people to make healthy choices.
This can only be done if you are aware of your HIV diagnosis and you access care. Medication has lifted the veil from HIV and allowed us to manage it as a long term chronic condition.
We still have challenges; misconceptions and stigma about HIV continue which tragically has made widespread testing persistently difficult. However, this too is improving. As knowledge about treatment options increases and people around the world begin to realise that anyone can catch HIV, more and more people are getting regularly tested.
If you have any doubts about testing for HIV, all I ask is you don’t dismiss the idea. Please seek advice from professionals here at Cobridge Community Health Centre or at The Piccadilly Centre HIV testing drop-in, where we are welcoming and non-judgemental and happy to talk about your concerns and support you through the process.”