More than food
The Food Chain has always been about more than food, important (and delicious) as that is. From the very beginning in 1988, our work was about offering support to people who were very sick, isolated, and often lonely. We began as a simple, compassionate response to the Aids crisis at an immensely difficult and sad time.
It is rewarding to see how very much has changed since those early days, for the vast majority of people living with HIV in the UK. The progress made is a strong testament to the dedication and commitment of thousands of health and social care professionals, policy makers, organisations and above all else, people living with HIV.
So, the picture today is very different, but there are also people living with HIV for whom things have not changed as much as they could or should have.
At The Food Chain we support people every day for whom life is every bit as difficult as it was for those with an HIV diagnosis back in the late eighties and early nineties. It’s just a different set of difficulties.
To me, it sometimes feels like we are back in those times, and they were not were not good times.
For example, we are presently supporting a woman whose pregnancy is not progressing well. She has a very high viral load and a very low CD4 count (two of the significant markers of her HIV infection). She has recently been in hospital with a type of pneumonia that is an Aids defining illness and she has a very low body weight. She also has another infection called CMV that means there is a higher than usual possibility that HIV may be passed on to her child. Every aspect of this young woman’s reality is rooted in her HIV positive status. Her physical and mental health is very poor and she faces a potentially complicated pregnancy with an uncertain outcome.
This referral takes my breath away. This is someone living in London in 2018. Her circumstances quite plainly and simply should not be as they are. It beggars belief. Nor is she the only one. I could give several other examples of people we support in equally heart-wrenching circumstances.
We have the knowledge, skills and resources available in the UK to make it possible for anybody and everybody infected with HIV to live a long and healthy life, whoever they may be.
However proud we may feel of our progress towards the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets for diagnosis, treatment and achieving viral suppression, we must feel an equal if not greater level of regret that people can still have the experience of living with HIV that is the day to day reality for many of our service users.
It really is not enough to say that we are doing well. If anything, doing as well as we are in some ways means we need to redouble our efforts to support those who are not living well with HIV, those who are sick, isolated, lonely, on the margins of our society and at risk of slipping off the edge.
We must continue our compassionate response to difficult and sad circumstances.