'Protect your life'

'Protect your life'

An HIV sufferer says many Hongkongers are putting their health at unnecessary risk

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Protect your life_L
Photo: Shutterstock
Louise - she does not want to use her real name - never imagined she could be suffering from HIV. In 2007, at the time of her diagnosis, she had big plans: within 12 months, she would finish her studies, and after a few years, would marry her boyfriend.

"We were studying at the same university in Singapore," says Louise, 26, who is now back in Hong Kong. "We'd been going out for a few years and had talked about getting married a few years after graduating. Perhaps it was because we talked about a future together that we stopped using a condom after that."

This was how she contracted HIV from her boyfriend, with whom she has parted.

She fell ill, but thought little of it until she took a regular health check-up to get an extension of her study visa. "When the doctor told me the test result, I was stunned; I didn't respond at all. I was confused."

A few days later, she received a letter from the immigration department telling her to leave Singapore within 14 days.

"I had to buy an air ticket, sort out my apartment, and pack my things in a very short time," she says. "Then, I thought, 'What am I going to tell my parents?'"

She did not know what to do, and was desperately in need of help. Luckily she came across the Hong Kong Aids Foundation while searching for information online.

"The foundation is very helpful," she says. "It offers lots of useful information, such as where to go for medical check-ups, and my rights and privacy issues in the workplace. It also gave me a lot of emotional support."

Francis Tang Yiu-kwong, a social worker at the foundation, has advised Louise since she returned to Hong Kong. "We provide information and support and, in some cases, financial help for those rejected by their families after being diagnosed [with HIV]," he says. "Emotional support is most important as the topic of HIV and Aids is a taboo subject in our society. Through individual and group counselling sessions, we hope to empower sufferers to take control of their lives."

Tang says the number of young people in Hong Kong contracting HIV through unprotected sex is rising. The youngest patient he has helped is 16. He often sees teenagers in school uniforms going in and out of hourly rental hotels, he says. "Youngsters are very casual about sex. Many go clubbing, then have a 'one-night-stand' with a person they've just met. They don't think too much about protection."

Louise says she never behaved like that, "but some of my friends did". Thanks to Tang and the foundation, Louise has taken control of her life. She completed a degree in Hong Kong and works in the performing arts. Every three months she has a medical check-up and is always prepared for the worst. Yet she tries to stay positive. "I spend more time with my family now. I'm doing charity work. I want to live my life to the fullest."

Looking back, Louise regrets having unprotected sex. "Like many young people in relationships, I didn't think much about how to protect myself. There're actually more risks in unprotected sex than just getting pregnant. It can affect your life and we have only one life."

Facts about HIV

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is transmitted through sexual intercourse, injecting drugs using contaminated needles, or through contaminated blood or organs. It is also passed from a mother to her child during childbirth.

The virus destroys blood cells that fight diseases, and causes Aids (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) which leads to life-threatening illnesses.

It takes about three months for a person who contracts the virus to be confirmed HIV-positive. About half of sufferers have flu-like symptoms; some are symptom-free. There is no cure, but some treatments can help keep the disease under control.

Groups that help local sufferers include HK Aids Foundation, Aids Concern and the Society for Aids Care.

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