Michael and Ferran are 56 years of age, married and live together in Spain. Here the couple founded and run the country’s leading HIV community organisation, which has provided support to the HIV community for more than 20 years. In 1986, the increasing media attention around HIV, predominantly affecting the gay community, prompted them to be tested. Both results returned as HIV positive, Michael and Ferran were aged 27.
The diagnosis was overwhelming for both Michael and Ferran, as at the time there was no clear distinction between HIV and AIDS.
“We knew people were dying from AIDS…doctors had nothing they could do to help – there was no treatment, no information, all you could do was try and live a healthy life but the idea was out there that being HIV positive meant 6 months to live.”
At the time of their diagnosis, the lack of peer support was a challenge. There were limited opportunities to connect with other members of the HIV community and there was a lack of accurate and easily available information on HIV management. Disclosure was also a hurdle, although Michael and Ferran felt comfortable sharing their HIV status to friends, they chose to hide their condition from their families for a number of years.
“We didn’t want to tell our parents we had HIV until we could reassure them there was hope; when more was known about the condition and there were treatments available. But it was hard not to disclose your status – you would walk into the doctor’s waiting room for a check-up and see friends or people you knew sitting there too and you knew it was because they were HIV positive as well.”
Michael and Ferran struggled for the initial years to come to grips with their status, both suffering periods with depression. The turning point came when they realised they could no longer regard HIV as a ‘death sentence’. Michael and Ferran decided to make a change, be more proactive in managing their HIV and unite to help others in their situation.
Michael and Ferran started treatment for their HIV in 1989, seeking out a doctor who has played an integral part in their HIV management ever since.
“Having a proactive attitude to our HIV management has meant that we are always communicating with our doctor. We’ve been involved with decisions regarding the management of our HIV every step of the way – we are part of the solution.”
Michael and Ferran’s viral loads have been undetectable since 1996 and both acknowledge that the situation for those living with HIV today has drastically improved due to advances in treatment and access to support. Both Michael and Ferran share the same ambition and through their organisation aim to end the epidemic and support those at risk to get tested. They also encourage people living with HIV to access treatment early, to ensure the best possible prognosis and care.
From diagnosis, Michael and Ferran have supported one another each step of the way and are aware of how lucky they are to have faced their challenges together.
“Having someone by your side to share the good and bad moments with has been extremely valuable – we are very appreciative as we know some people don’t have this. We’ve come from the dark ages of the HIV epidemic, so it’s very special that we still have each other.”