World AIDS Day: Living with HIV in Luxembourg
(MSS) Martin knew he was going to die when he was diagnosed with HIV in the late '80s aged 27.
Many of his friends from the gay community in Paris had also been diagnosed with what was ignorantly being referred to as “the gay plague”, and those diagnosed positive with this new disease often passed away within two to three years.
“It was an undeniable truth in the '80s that HIV equalled death. Doctors didn't even give you any hope,” Martin said. He was a studying in the French capital when AIDS hit the world, and tested positive in Luxembourg in 1989.
“I honestly can't remember how I felt when the doctor told me I had HIV, but I think I was lucky to be diagnosed at a time where I was full of life and enjoying it, because I didn't see it as an end to everything. I was determined not to let it interfere with my life,” Martin, now 50, recalled.
Suffering from the disease was irrelevant to his personality, Martin felt, and he went on living his life as if nothing had happened. As a raver in the '90s he went out a lot, danced away on ecstasy and didn't follow any health guidelines.
He chose not to tell his family, not because he was ashamed of having HIV, but because he didn't want pity.
“I also didn't tell my friends, but I think they understood because of my commitment to fighting AIDS,” Martin said.
“You just had to be happy you were alive”
Despite Martin's strength the disease did however weaken him. Doctors were experimenting with medication, but HIV was still considered a fatal disease, and survival came at a price.
Some years Martin came down with three or four pneumonias, a hepatitis infection was causing problems and he constantly had to deal with the strong side effects of the new medication that was just “thrown onto the market.”
“You just had to be happy you were alive, that was always the argument,” Martin said.
He recalled how the doctors almost seemed happier that he was alive than he was himself, as they had been by standers for years, watching people die without being able to do anything but ease their pain and despair.
Medication was slowly changing everything and although scientists have yet to find a cure, HIV is now a disease doctors know how to control to an extent where transmission is avoidable.
“It's not nice to live with HIV”
Today however, statistics show the highest infection rate since the outbreak of AIDS some three decades ago.
Martin points to a younger unconcerned HIV positive generation, who seem less distressed about the disease because we can control it, as an explanation to the upsurge in infections.
“Some people think it's because the screening campaigns are working, but I don't think that's the case,” he said.
“We're dealing with a new generation, who doesn't take any precaution. For the first time, there's real hope of eradicating this disease because medication means you don't transmit it. But thinking it's unnecessary to use protection because we can control the disease is totally counter-productive,” Martin said.
“My body is completely weakened and feels ten years older,” he said and pointed to his thin wrists and legs.
“We have a lightened view on the disease, but you should avoid getting it no matter what,” he continued.
“It is not nice to live with HIV.”
Martin W. is an assumed name, but the source's real identity is known by wort.lu/en.