I have spoken in front of thousands of people about living with HIV, however rarely was I so nervous as last night, when I had to speak in front of quite a number of Lambeth residents explaining why I wanted to seat on the board of my local Healthwatch. Healthwatch are local organizations that champion patients’ rights in the new NHS. The one I have joined is in Lambeth, South London.
Lambeth has the highest HIV prevalence not only in the UK but in the whole of Europe. In our borough there are probably over 3000 people living with HIV, nearly a third still undiagnosed. We have a large population of people of African and Afro Caribbean origin, and also many gay men. Those populations are particularly vulnerable to HIV. Lambeth has also very high levels of poverty, or social deprivation – as they like to call it. Lately there have been also a lot of richer people moving in, and the process of gentrification is creating greater inequality and tension, as well as inflating the price of cappuccinos.
When they gave me the microphone, last night, I made sure my feet were well anchored to the floor. I took in some deep breaths; I just didn’t want my hands to shake.
I said: “I am Silvia, I am a woman living with HIV”
Deep breath in: the whole room was looking at me. I wondered if there was any of my neighbours in there.
“I want to be part of Healthwatch because sadly our borough has the highest HIV prevalence in the UK. I know personally how important it is to access high quality health and social care, but also how difficult it can be, .Especially when you live with a life threatening, highly stigmatized condition like me. I know how hard is to be involved, and it is quite hard even now for me speaking to you. I have worked for over thirteen years at Positively UK with other people living with HIV developing programs to enable us to move from the isolation we experience when diagnosed with HIV to being visible and heard. .I hope to use this experience to ensure we have participation from many people who are seldom heard…”
Everybody was very kind to me and nobody asked me rude questions along the lines ‘How did you get it?!?’ Therefore, so far so good… I think it is going to be a real challenge; most of my activism has been within the sheltered HIV community. But what can I say apart from: ‘Bring it on!’. I have cats, chocolate, and my many friends living with and without HIV to support me.