HIV and Travel
Welcome to ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ which will be a regular feature of the Pozhet E-Newsletter.
For most clients of Pozhet an HIV diagnosis is a shock, something they didn’t expect and aren’t prepared for. Many had no idea they were at risk of HIV, and thought HIV was transmitted only in ‘high risk groups’. As the buzz around HIV has quietened, and people diagnosed are living well, HIV has dropped off the radar for heterosexuals. In this series we feature some of the stories of heterosexual people diagnosed with HIV, an unexpected event indeed.
Jimmy* is a regular traveller to Thailand for fun, relaxation and sex with Thai girls. He travels with other guys, some are single, some are married or have girlfriends. They are going for a fun holiday with the guys, and what happens in Thailand stays in Thailand. However he didn’t bargain on HIV being part of the package, and when he goes for a check-up due to some a rash and persistent flu, he refuses an HIV test.
“That’s not me, I’m not gay”. The Doctor advises a test, Jimmy refuses. He has never seen himself at risk, the girls he has sex with are just sweet village girls, not sex workers, in his mind. He can see they are ‘clean’ and healthy. They do not fit the stereotype of ‘hookers’ he has in mind, they don’t use drugs and if he gives them some gifts it’s because they appreciate them and it helps their families. He thinks about condoms but it’s just not realistic all the time. And if he’s in a relationship with one of the girls, why should he use one anyway?
Besides, he’s not gay, and you only get HIV if you are gay. That’s the message he’s heard in Australia. He refuses the test.
Later when he is very unwell, he is finally tested and is completely shocked to find out he has HIV. He goes straight onto HIV treatment, which works well. He is afraid of losing his job so he tells no one. He is afraid of being found out so doesn’t come to any Pozhet groups and doesn’t seek peer support. It won’t be until the secrecy and fear get to him so much that he finally rings Pozhet and decides to come out of isolation. It’s been 8 years. Turning up to his first event is a major ordeal. He is afraid to see someone he might know. He is afraid of seeing other people with HIV. He is surprised to see they are all just ‘normal’ people like him.
*Not his real name
Pozhet clients are from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and lifestyles. They range from older people in their 70s to younger people negotiating their 20s and 30s within a mainstream culture that knows very little about HIV as it is today. Meeting others in their situation (peer support) can be extremely beneficial for heterosexual people with HIV.
If you have any clients who may benefit, please refer them to Pozhet.