A New HIV Diagnosis in Argyll and Bute – What Now?

At the end of February, Amanda Scott, Project Worker with our Argyll & Bute HIV Prevention and Support Project shared her experience working with someone newly diagnosed with HIV. In this blog piece, Amanda talks us through working with Jack (name changed for anonymity), shining a light on some of the challenges involved supporting someone living in a remote and rural area.

I checked my emails first thing on Monday, to discover a self-referral from Jack. Jack lives 2 hours away from my work base, on the other side of Argyll, but I knew from the tone of their referral that Jack needed support as soon as possible. So I called them up and arranged to meet them the very next day.

When I met Jack, they were highly distressed. They were new to Scotland and had just received an HIV diagnosis through a routine blood test for an unrelated condition, on their arrival in Britain. They were isolated and in shock and, I was the first person they had told.

I spent some time with Jack talking them through the diagnosis and being a listening ear that they needed. Through this process of emotional support, I was able to build up trust with Jack and they allowed me to arrange an emergency appointment at the Brownlee HIV Treatment Center. It’s important to make sure anyone with a new diagnosis is linked into their local treatment centre – although ‘local’ for someone in Argyll and Bute means something very different to someone in Glasgow!

Jack went along to their Brownlee appointment two days later, despite having to travel over four hours to get to and from their appointment – within the space of 5 days Jack had reached out and received the support they needed through this distressing and complicated experience.

It might sound like this is all about Jack’s HIV diagnosis, but Jack has experienced so much more that informs the kind of support they need to manage their diagnosis and treatment. Jack had just returned from six years in a conflict-torn East African Country when I first met them and, had witnessed many disturbing and traumatic incidents during their time. The HIV diagnosis was unexpected and shameful for them – they needed to be able to share their burden and not be judged or condemned for their health condition. To be treated with such compassion was a big deal for them.

Now I have quickly built a trusting relationship with Jack as they know I have their best interests at heart and it’s time to consider, what does support look like for Jack from here on in?

Being there as a service to support someone is so important in remote and rural areas as there are lots of additional challenges due to the geographical location. Whether it’s making sure Jack has access to transport to get to Brownlee appointments in Glasgow or, their need to be supported in a confidential manner within their locality – providing a safe outlet for them to talk to. These are some of the cornerstones of our support going forward.

I am optimistic that this relationship with Jack will make it easier for Jack to adhere to treatment, and becoming undetectable will encourage Jack to view themselves kindlier, feeling less stressed, isolated and anxious. Swift action and support, reassurance, kindness and understanding were needed to address Jack’s suffering, as well as enabling them to access treatment and care quickly.

Within the Argyll and Bute HIV Prevention and Support Project, we support the people accessing our service to gain internal and external resources to help them live well and manage the condition. By meeting them with compassion, understanding and acceptance, we are encouraging them to have a positive self-regard, benefitting their wellbeing and encouraging resilience when learning to live with this lifelong condition.

“You have been sent from God, and I am thankful”

– Jack

A big thanks to NHS Highland, whose funding makes supporting people like Jack possible in Argyll and Bute. 

Update: Since the initial writing of this piece at the end of February, I have since attended the Brownlee with Jack to receive their first blood test results. It turns out Jack is very ill and has been living with HIV for some years. Their CD4 count was very low and viral load very high.

Jack now has their medication and we arranged to have a little celebration the first time they took their antiretrovirals as this is the real and also symbolic start of Jack getting their body back from HIV.

I feel very proud of Scotland offering this care, treatment and support to Jack. I am also reminded that we are so privileged to live in a country where this is possible.