Rose, aged 55, London

Living openly positive

"I am a black British and African heterosexual woman. I am the mother of two and have two grandchildren. I was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 in Tanzania. In April 2003, I came to the United Kingdom for further education. I was determined not to let my HIV status hinder my ability to study, to work, to marry and to live a normal life like others. I completed my MBA in 2006.

I married in 2007. My husband was HIV negative, but he knew about my HIV status, so we started off using condoms. After one year of our marriage, he refused to use condoms anymore and, as a woman, I did not have the power to negotiate condom use. According to my culture, I can’t say no if my husband wants sex.

I informed my HIV consultant about our unprotected sex. She told me that, provided I have disclosed my status to him, it was his responsibility to take care of himself. At the time I didn’t know that undetectable is equal to untransmittable (U=U). I think that U=U is very empowering for other women to know about, especially if they lack the power to negotiate safe sex.

My husband also took advantage of my finances. He forced me to pay his way for many things, ranging from basic financial obligations to airfare for holiday travel. In order to be free from his sexual and financial demands, I decided to divorce him in 2011 and have been strong and independent ever since.

Counselling gave me the confidence to be open about my HIV status to my employers, my friends, and my family members, including my children. Everyone is very supportive. I feel that sharing my status with others has helped me to fight stigma – it forces me to be more open about what living with HIV really means.

To avoid being lonely, I attend an HIV support group in my local area where
I learn, exchange ideas and share experience with others. I have a good relationship with my HIV consultant and clinic, my GP, my dentist and local hospital. They all know my HIV status. I am very proud of knowing my HIV status and living positively and I hope that by sharing my story, others can be empowered to live openly positive as well.”

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