Anna’s journey: from surviving to thriving

Anna is 48, lives in Sweden and is currently fulfilling her life-long dream of completing a PhD at the Global Health Institute after raising her two, now adult, children. In 1991, Anna was diagnosed with HIV aged 24 during a routine pregnancy check-up by her gynaecologist. Anna, who is originally from Zambia, believes she had been unknowingly living with the virus for 6 or 7 years prior to diagnosis. She says had she not moved to Sweden and received this diagnosis, she may not be alive today.

“I didn’t know what HIV was, I’d heard of AIDS and linked the two. To me it was a death sentence. At the time it was difficult to find information on HIV and trying to access this in public, for instance at the library, meant disclosing your status, which made it even more difficult. It took me almost five years to fully understand what HIV was and the implications of living with the condition.”

Anna commenced treatment for her HIV in 1994, but initially suffered severe side effects such as anaemia and stomach problems. However, the negative side effects were vastly outweighed by the fact that the treatments were suppressing her viral load and keeping her alive to care for her children. Her main concern for the future was what would happen to her son and daughter if she became too sick to look after them or died.

Looking forward…

Anna’s understanding and perspective of her future and long-term health has since changed. She has been an active ambassador for the HIV community for the past 15 years and since 2004, modern treatments have stabilised her condition. Anna’s viral load has been at an undetectable level for 11 years. She is positive that with the support of her HIV physician and regular check-ups, she will be able to simultaneously manage her HIV alongside any future health challenges which may come her away.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a strong relationship with your HIV physician or nurse. You must be open with them and comfortable to ask any questions about managing your HIV or long-term health.”

Now that Anna’s HIV is under control, she is confident that she will live a long and happy life.

“No longer am I just surviving, I am living and making plans for the future. My message to those recently diagnosed is simply you are going to be ok, you are lucky to be diagnosed now when there are possible solutions and effective treatments…for me life today is perfect.”

Anna’s top recommendations to managing long term HIV health:

  1. Educate yourself as soon as possible – once you have an understanding of what HIV is, you can start managing it with the support of your healthcare team. Accessing reputable information is a start, it’s then important to take ownership of being HIV positive and to build the life you want around this.
  2. Establish a solid and ongoing relationship with your healthcare team – I have had the same HIV physician for 30 years and continue to have regular visits. Consistent check-ups are important to manage HIV as well as any potential comorbidities.
  3. Don’t let being HIV positive rule your life – there are continuing challenges regarding stigma and HIV which need to be addressed, however, it is possible to have healthy relationships, a social life and a career while effectively managing your condition.