A HEALTHY AND FULFILLING LIFE WITH HIV
“The thing people are surprised about is how little living with HIV impacts my life,” says CEO of NAM aidsmap, Matthew Hodson. With a full schedule, leading one of the world’s foremost sources of HIV information and sharing his life and love of fitness on social media, Matthew finds time to tell his story for World AIDS Day.
Matthew was diagnosed in 1998 in the early days of HIV combination antiretroviral therapy. Aware that he may have been at risk of infection, and that he couldn’t say with confidence that he didn’t have HIV, he took a test. “The fact that they announced that they could treat HIV effectively was a big encouragement for me,” he says.
When his result came back positive he started on monitoring, with blood tests to measure his viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) and CD4 count (an indication of the health of the immune system). “In those days, people weren’t advised to go onto treatment immediately,” Matthew explains. “Now they recommend that people start treatment straight away.”
“I did very well on my first combination. I think I have switched three times now,” Matthew tells This Is MedTech. “Because we have a range of treatments now, I have been able to adjust my treatment to something that not only suits my body but also suits my lifestyle.”
Treatment is not the only thing to have changed since Matthew was diagnosed. “I think the test I would have had back then would have been an antibody test,” Matthew recalls. “It would have been before the fourth generation tests, which detect the HIV p24 antigen as well as antibodies, reducing the ‘window period’.” (This is the period of time after exposure before HIV infection is detectable.)
As Matthew manages his busy life, medical technology continues to play a role in monitoring his ongoing health, with six-monthly checks on his blood pressure and kidney function, and blood tests, including a viral load test.
“Viral load is something we talk a lot about in HIV because it is directly related to how transmissible the virus is,” Matthew says. “We now know that when someone is on effective HIV treatment to the point where the virus is no longer detectable in a standard test then there is no risk of transmission during sex, which we call Undetectable equals Untransmittable. This has the power to really challenge the stigma that people living with HIV face, but it also really encourages people to test,” he continues.
Having worked to provide HIV information for the last 22 years, firstly within GMFA, the gay men’s health charity and for the last five years as CEO of NAM aidsmap, Matthew is committed to helping people living with HIV to be empowered and equipped to look after their own health. He also wants to help challenge the stigma that is still associated with HIV, which he says places barriers to accessing testing and treatment.
“The only way to combat that is by people like me being open about it,” Matthew reflects. “I need people with HIV to be able to test, to be able to access treatment. Because when we are on effective treatment, we can live long, healthy and fulfilling lives.”