Just got diagnosed with HIV? What is next?
You have just been recently diagnosed with HIV. You’re likely experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions and have lots of questions which are understandable. As you go through these feelings, whether of anger, fear, sadness or guilt, it is important to first take a deep breath and begin the process of finding a health care provider and as much as possible, look for any form of support available.
1. Friends & Family
As you are coming to grips with the new diagnosis, you may face difficulty as to what the next step will be. You may want to talk about it with a trusted friend or family member. Although you may feel uncomfortable with breaking the news, you may realize that shouldering the burden alone actually makes it more difficult to process the news and that telling someone you trust may be a positive experience as it can help you get the much-needed support and it may actually strengthen relationships. It is important to be informed of the condition yourself – it may be best to obtain information about HIV before telling others about the new diagnosis. There are many myths that surround HIV which contribute to the stigma attached to it but by knowing more about living with HIV can reassure your loved ones that with effective medications available, you can live a long and healthy life.
2. Telling your partner
It is important to let your current or former partners know that they may have been exposed. They then should be tested for HIV. It is encouraging to know that many people living with HIV continue to have relationships and can have children who don’t have HIV. The term ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ (shortened to U=U) was coined and is used as a campaign to prevent sexual transmission of HIV without the use of condoms based on numerous studies that demonstrated this. This is achievable by taking treatment daily and having undetectable viral load levels for at least 6 months. However, until U=U is achieved, the proper use of condoms must be done to prevent transmission. In addition, your partner may also want to consider PrEP, in addition, to use of condom before you achieve undetectable viral loads for at least 6 months.
3. Clinics & Support Groups
As HIV is a chronic medical condition that requires lifelong follow-up and treatment, it is essential to establish a relationship with an HIV health care provider that is as honest and open as possible. You may either be managed at the clinic where the HIV diagnosis was made or referred to an HIV specialist and their team for HIV management.
Among other tests, the key ones that will be done at the first clinic visit as well as during subsequent visits are HIV viral load as well as CD4 counts. The HIV viral load is a measure of the amount of virus detectable in the blood and the CD4 count is the amount of CD4 cells, which are white blood cells that play an important role in the immune system. The goal for everyone living with HIV is to reach an undetectable HIV viral load as quickly as possible.
Many guidelines recommend that HIV treatment be started immediately after the diagnosis is made. This is because studies have shown that immediate treatment can lower the risk of long term effects on the immune system and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
There are many support groups available where you can be a part of, to obtain further information from or would simply like to reach out for a listening ear as you may not be ready to tell your friends or family about the new diagnosis.
Here is a list of support groups available in Singapore & Malaysia:
Action for AIDS (AFA) (Singapore)
PT Foundation (Malaysia)