Cork activist: 'I am living with, not dying from, HIV'

Cork activist: 'I am living with, not dying from, HIV'
Will Kennedy at the Cork Pride parade. "People need to realise it's not what it was. HIV positive people can be healthy and happy… we are not dying." Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A Cork man has spoken out against the stigma associated with living with HIV.

Will Kennedy has set up Positive Cork so HIV positive people can meet up and support each other.

He was diagnosed in 2007 and has been an activist ever since.

"It's a bit annoying Cork efforts [to end the stigma surrounding HIV] are often overlooked. Positive Cork meet on the first and third Monday of every month."

Will was also one of the people who met with the Minister for Health twice to ensure the rollout of PrEP, a new HIV prevention medication.

Will says he has had both medical professionals and partners judge him. "When I was being treated for cancer, a consultant asked me how I got HIV."

"I felt there was a moral judgment being made. You wouldn't ask that about any other illness."

He says one of the worst reactions he ever got was from a date. "After we went on a few dates, I told him. He called me 'filth'."

"He said why did I think someone like him would want to be with someone like me."

"People need to realise it's not what it was. HIV positive people can be healthy and happy… we are not dying."

"With HIV medication, undetectable equals untransmittable. HIV cannot be passed on. This along with the introduction of PrEP means serious improvement."

Will says another frustration is when NGOs or health staff patronise people living with HIV, which he says is "completely unintentional."

"We should be encouraging people to share their status, as long as they are comfortable. People are often told they don't have to share if they don't want to. There's self-stigmatisation, internalised shame. Keeping it to yourself compounds these feelings."

"I think of two men who live in the Midlands who attend health clinics in Dublin. They have never told their family, even after years. It's such a big part of your life to compartmentalise."

Will has paid for posters and business cards for the new support group out of his own pocket. He is 62 and receives a pension. He took early retirement after being diagnosed with cancer.

He has also funded the cost of staying overnight in Dublin to receive training in how to deliver a peer mentoring programme for people with HIV. He hopes to set this up in the new year.

"There's great support for the medical side of things in Ireland, especially with the introduction of PrEP. But there's not a lot of social support."

"Living with HIV is a long-term health condition. We need counsellors, social workers, and advocacy groups. We need to be listened to."

People interested in attending Positive Cork can contact them on Facebook or via email at positivecork@gmail.com.

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