World Aids Day: Survivors share their stories of living with the virus

Millions of people around the world will come together today to celebrate World Aids Day.

After 30 years of fighting the virus around 90,000 people live with it in the UK, according to Public Health England.

Last year, some 6,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK, with almost half (43%) of all new cases in London.

Despite decades of high-profile campaigns to educate the public about HIV/Aids, a YouGov study shows that many people in Britain still believe damaging myths, such as it being possible to catch the virus from kissing or sharing a toothbrush.

To dispel common misconceptions, two people living with the virus share their stories:

  • Annmarie Byrne, 68, from London

Annmarie Byrne lost her husband to Aids in 1996. Credit: PA Wire

Annmarie is part of the first generation to grow old with HIV. She caught the virus from her husband in the 1990s when they were both living in Zimbabwe, and a diagnosis was seen as certain death.

When her husband died of Aids in 1996, Annmarie lived alone with the virus for decades, dealing with the isolation it can bring as well as the physical symptoms.

Annmarie Byrne contracted HIV from her husband in the 1990s. Credit: PA Wire

He was a white Irishman: people always assume he was a black African when they hear where we lived. My 13-year-old son asked if I was going to die and quite frankly I thought I was going to. But he's 33 now and I'm still here. > I'm white, middle-class, and contracted it from my husband. The virus doesn't know who you are, what car you drive, whether you live in a nice house or not. People think anything to do with sex is dirty, so HIV acquires this extra layer of something disgusting. > I had to start over again coming to the UK, like many people with HIV I lost my support network. I haven't been intimate with anyone since my husband died. I'm very aware when you get close with someone you have to open up to them and rejection is something I just can't face. I'm very grateful that I'm still here. But there's still so much to do - there are too few of us who speak out. >

Annmarie Byrne
Thomas Lange was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 18. Credit: PA Wire
  • Thomas Lange, 49, from Brixton

Thomas was diagnosed at the tender age of 18, and spent the first six years nursing a dying partner.

The German-born former hotel worker says he feels lucky to be alive because all his gay friends from the era when HIV/Aids first emerged who got infected are now dead.

Going without treatment until 2007, Thomas now has HIV-related dementia, kidney failure and does not feel sensations from the waist down or in parts of his arms.

Thomas Lange believes HIV has been forgotten to some extent. Credit: PA Wire

I'm the only one left. I have mourned someone for half of my life. After falling very ill I became homeless, lost my job and had to sell my assets. It left me suicidal. A lot of people who I thought were my friends abandoned me and so did some of my siblings. They couldn't cope with me being open about my status. Some gay people think it's embarrassing and I find that really hard. On gay pub crawls you can see an instant split between those who are positive and those who - they think at least - are negative. > I went on Channel 4's First Dates purely to talk about HIV and raise the issue to a wider audience because it has been forgotten about on some level. When I go into my GP every week there's no HIV literature or anything in the waiting room. Think how many dark thoughts you have just normally - then imagine getting told you have HIV and losing everything you own and your friends.

Thomas Lange