HIV activist Philip C Baldwin opens up about the day he was diagnosed and talks about the importance of the annual World AIDS Day Red Run.
“The test has come back positive. You’re HIV positive.”
It came as a complete shock. I was speechless. I inhaled sharply. My shoulders tensed and my chest constricted. If felt like there was a weight pressing against me. I turned my head to one side and starred at the floor. The nurse reached over and placed her hand gently on my thigh. She tried to engage me in conversation, asking me what I was thinking.
“How informed are you about HIV? It’s not a death sentence.”
Her manner was calm and her voice even. She was trying to reassure me. She gave me some basic facts about HIV. I would have a follow-up appointment within a week, this time at the specialist HIV clinic. They would do more blood tests. I would receive a letter in the post confirming the date for the appointment. I tried to take in what I could. I was sitting on my hands. I tried to stop myself panicking. I breathed slowly, but wave after wave of anxiety washed over me. I felt like my life was over.
Everything I had worked for seemed a waste of time. I thought of the disappointment my parents, friends and colleagues would experience. I was drowning in a sea of guilt. I was stripped bare. I felt frightened, like a child. The nurse left the room and I was alone.
There are more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. It’s over six years since, in 2010, I was diagnosed with HIV. This year, on Sunday 26 November, I will be participating in the World AIDS Day Red Run, raising money for the HIV charity Positive East. The Red Run is a sponsored 5 km/10 km chipped timed charity fun run, which is taking place in London’s Victoria Park. The aim of the run is to increase awareness around HIV, challenge HIV stigma, as well as raising funds for 25 HIV charities from across the UK. Entrants of all abilities are welcome and the deadline for signing up is 23 November. If you are interested in running, then please sign up at www.redrun.org.uk.
The Red Run is hosted by Positive East. This is the eighth year that Positive East has co-ordinated the event. When the run first took place, it was held in Richmond Park and had only 50 runners. Since then the number of runners has grown and other HIV charities have also become involved. In 2015, 300 runners participated, with the number of runners, last year, increasing to 600. Fourteen HIV charities were involved in 2016, increasing to 25 this year. As well as raising money, the event is also a highly visible statement of solidarity. It is a community-oriented event and involves people from many different backgrounds. Last year the ratio of male to female runners was almost equal. Some participants, like myself this year, are HIV positive, while others are running to support friends or in remembrance of loved ones who have died. The event aims to be inclusive and the diverse crowd cheering on the runners will include families and children. The event will be the UK’s largest HIV/World AIDS Day event.
Positive East is London’s largest HIV charity. They are based in east London and offer more HIV tests in London than any other organisation.
It took me a number of years to come to terms with my HIV diagnosis. Positive East offer counselling and peer support to people who are newly diagnosed, as well as offering health and wellbeing workshops to HIV positive people at every stage in their journey with HIV.
They work with women living with HIV, men, both straight and gay, as well as doing great awareness work amongst faith communities. I am now a happy, healthy and HIV-positive gay man. We need to keep on supporting Positive East and fighting for people living with HIV.
The Red Run is a great opportunity to stand together and celebrate how far we have come in the 35 years since HIV was first detected in the UK, whilst being mindful of the huge amount of work that still needs to be done around HIV prevention, supporting people living with HIV and challenging the stigma of HIV. If you can’t participate in the Red Run yourself, then please donate at my JustGiving page. All the proceeds are going to Positive East. I can’t wait for the #RedRunUK!