‘When I was diagnosed with AIDS I thought I’d go home in a coffin but it’s not a death sentence anymore’

A mum from North London said she thought she would ‘go home in a coffin’ after she was diagnosed with AIDS.

Memory Sachikonye was told she had contracted HIV in 2002 at a time when thousands of people in her home country of Zimbabwe were dying from the virus.

With treatment nowhere near as advanced as it is now, Memory described her diagnosis as like being hit with a ‘death sentence’.

READ MORE: “I want people to know it’s not the life sentence people think it is”: What you need to know about HIV in 2021

She said: “When I was told I had it, my body went into shock. I honestly thought I was going to go back home in a coffin.

“I was working at a good job in Zimbabwe, my son was 15 at the time and I was 34 and of course my whole life changed.

“I had to start adjusting to accepting that I was actually living with HIV which at first was the hardest thing.

Memory said that the experience was “difficult” but described how she was “fortunate enough to be referred to a peer support group”.

At the group, called Positively Women, she met other women and other people living with HIV who inspired her.

However, the mother said she still “had to deal with a lot of social issues because of the stigma that comes with HIV about who you are and who you’ve slept with.

“But in reality, any adult who has sex is at risk of getting HIV.”

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After living with HIV for 19 years, on World AIDS Day (December 1) Memory was determined to break the stigma surrounding the virus.

Despite treatment allowing HIV carriers to live normal lives and become untransmittable, the condition is still clouded with negative tropes, Memory said.

She added: “HIV is not a death sentence anymore. You can live a happy and normal life.

“I’m sharing my story because I want everybody to get tested. You know the sooner you get tested, the better the outcome is.

“If you get it, it’s not like how it was in the old days, just look at the treatment. It is very simplified now and you can live a really happy life.

“I look like any other person on the streets or where I work. I’m still a mother; I’m still a friend to my friends and I still do everything I want to do as a woman.

“I’m now in my 50s, menopausal and can be a grumpy old woman worrying about the menopause, hot flushes, and everything else but not HIV.”

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Due to improvements in treatment, while Memory once had to take 18 tablets a day, she now has to take just two.

She credits the staff at the Alexandra Pringle Centre at North Middlesex University Hospital, London, with making her life much easier after her diagnosis.

“I mean, I really love them. I just love everyone in the unit. They have done a lot for me, you know and I’m grateful,” she said.

HIV is a manageable long-term medical condition with near-normal life expectancy in the UK.

Hospitals now test all patients who attended A&E and are over 18 for HIV as a matter of course, as it is important to diagnose HIV as early as possible for the best treatment outcomes.

It can take many years for symptoms of HIV infection to occur and many people do not realise that they have been at risk of HIV.

Anyone can also easily test for HIV by talking to your GP or ordering a home testing kit.

Dr Emily Cheserem, a consultant in Sexual Health and HIV, said: “We have patients who are enjoying life in their 80s and 90s, and on the other end of the spectrum, over 600 negative children have been born to patients living with HIV at North Mid.

“This all goes to show that people living with HIV can enjoy healthy, fulfilling lives, participating in all aspects of life just as everyone else does.”

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