The fact that I’m writing this at 10:00 at night speaks volumes.
Because when a job is just a job, you switch it off at the end of the day, go home and forget about it.
But my work in HIV isn’t just a job. It’s much, much more than that. And I am so thankful I found my way back here.
My last blog post at PositiveLite.com was shortly after I moved from Guelph, Canada, to Glasgow, Scotland. I wrote my last post sitting at a cafe in the West End of Glasgow, not really sure where this move would take me. In only a couple of months I was hired at the University of Strathclyde where I worked in Knowledge Exchange for nearly two years. I’m grateful for the experience, but how I missed working in HIV! I missed working in a field that I am both passionate about and knowledgeable in, where the people are dynamic as they are caring, and the issues we deal with lie at the very heart of humanity.
A two year break was probably good for me to gain some new experiences and grow in different ways, and admittedly to have a break from some of the tough stuff we deal with in this line of work. But I’m so glad to be back. Even though I have many new challenges ahead, in some ways, it feels like returning home.
Just a few short weeks ago, I started at Terrence Higgins Trust, as Training Manager where I will be launching the new Learning Centre in Scotland. Here I will be developing, delivering and coordinating a brand new program of training courses across Scotland, including some courses in HIV and sexual health training that have been accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. I’m so pleased to be working for an organisation that has such an incredibly strong team, including fellow PositiveLite.com blogger, Alex Sparrowhawk.
I was recently commenting how much I have to learn in my new post when my husband joked, ‘is HIV different in the UK?’ He was joking because, of course, the disease itself is the same no matter where you go. It is, after all, the same virus. But many things are different here: The absence of NHS-funded PreP. The laws on HIV transmission and disclosure. The funding of sexual health services. The delivery of harm reduction services. The laws on sex work. Chem Sex and Slamming. This is of course, just to name a few.
And then there are the new developments in the field that took place during my two year absence. One of the things that I love about working in this sector is the rapid development of prevention and treatment technologies and discoveries. I have blogged about this before; we have seen more developments in the prevention and treatment of this disease in the last 30 years than any other disease I can think of. Even though some basic, fundamental issues (like HIV stigma) are quite stubborn, and no cure for HIV is currently available, we have seen a comparatively rapid progression of HIV prevention, testing and treatment tools, and the last two years have been no exception.
I find myself trying needing to catch up - quickly - and to learn about recent developments such as Event Based Dosing of PreP, new HIV treatments with fewer side effects, surprising stats about older adults and HIV incidence, and recent research about the life expectancy of the newly diagnosed. I have PositiveLite.com to thank in helping me brush up my knowledge with exciting articles such as those written by Gus Cairns and Bob Leahy.
Most intriguing is what’s to come. Will people who begin treatment immediately be able to stop treatment in later life? Will a functional cure be found? Two weeks after starting my new position I gave a day-long workshop on HIV Awareness; one week later I was able to present the findings of the PARTNER study, saying with confidence that people with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus. Even though it was all about timing, I can’t help but feel excited to work in a field where the information I can give can change in a week’s time.
Then, of course, there’s the stuff that doesn’t change, with time nor with distance. Here in the UK, and in Scotland, the most marginalised are still at greatest risk - especially gay, bi and men who have sex with men, along with men and women who are members of the BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) populations, as well as people struggling with addictions.
Stigma is huge problem. Seventeen percent of people living with HIV in the UK are unaware that they have the virus and reaching this population remains the most difficult challenge. An ageing population means we have to address homophobia and HIV stigma (and ignorance) in care homes and in health care, where many people have reported stigma and discrimination. All of these stats and issues are mirrored in the UK, in Scotland and in Canada.
So, it is exciting and interesting times, both for me as a foreigner (who becomes less foreign every day) and as a worker in this important field.
It’s good to be back.