A key member of the team, Beatrice Osoro brings together all elements of the care and support needed to help people understand what being HIV positive means for them, following a routine test and diagnosis at the Emergency Department (ED). “Life may not be the same exactly, but it won’t be as different as you think,” she tells them.
HIV is no longer a death sentence. I know, I’ve been living with the virus for 28 years. Yes, I’ve had to make changes to adjust. Yes, it was hard to get my head around, but the fact I knew I had the virus meant I could get on with doing what I needed to do to stay well, look after my health, my family and carry on with the rest of my life. Was it a hardship? No! Patients are often concerned about the lifelong medications they have to take. I tell them it’s normal, millions of people do it for many other medical conditions and you just need to get on with it.
Beatrice uses her lived experience to help those referred to HIV support clinics via routine blood borne virus (BBV) testing at ED. This project tests for hepatitis B, C and HIV alongside other blood tests already being carried out. Beatrice says support is vital and helped her massively. Everyone rallied round, family, friends, colleagues; and those who judged or blamed me are no longer in my life. The diagnosis meant I was able to take positive action to prevent ill health and at that time, potentially dying from the virus. I ask my patients what they need from me to help them get through.
When ED colleagues refer patients to us, we’re quick to arrange a meeting with them. I listen to what’s going on with them, their fears, anxieties and concerns. Their biggest worry is usually around whether or not to tell loved ones. Most are at a really low ebb and fear rejection, shame and the stigma. My team and I are support them through it all, not just the medical aspects. I’ve helped patients by putting them in touch with welfare services and organisations that can help with things like benefits and housing. This helps alleviate some of the other worries they have in their lives, allowing them to focus on the most important thing: their health. My team and I also connect them to peer support groups where they can talk openly about their concerns with other people who are newly diagnosed. It’s hugely helpful, having people with whom to connect, outside a formal setting.
Slowly, people begin to see beyond the diagnosis and it’s amazing to see and experience this with them. I had a patient tell me he’d never have voluntarily had the test and was grateful for the assistance to get through it and get his life back on track. Another patient asked for his partner to be tested and for everything to be explained to them both, so they understood it all together.
I want people to understand that HIV, especially now, is a virus which can be treated and managed exceptionally well. Women, heterosexuals, older people and people of Black African ethnicity are disproportionally affected by late diagnosis. In England in 2020, people with a late diagnosis were 13 times more likely to die within a year of their diagnosis, compared to those diagnosed early. I really want people to know that I understand the hurdles they have to overcome, but that you can manage the virus and live well with it. Medication means you won’t pass it on. This journey and swift action, which starts with being tested, is like a jigsaw; things fall into place and you get the full picture once you have the facts and support you need. I have to put myself out there if I want to see change, especially to have HIV treated and viewed like any other virus. I love that I can help fill in the gaps and ease people’s worries, helping them live their best lives.
Beatrice Osoro is a clinical outreach lead working for Positively UK across numerous hospitals in North and West London. She’s part of a multi-disciplinary team supporting people who’ve just learnt their HIV status. Her role is to help people make sense of what happens next, how to cope and live with the virus. Beatrice has been living with HIV for 28 years and knows there is light after a diagnosis.