The second instalment of our Think Positive series is from 18-year-old Channan who found the strength to overcome bullies and is now a passionate advocate who will not let her HIV status define her. Here is her powerful story:
Channan was born with HIV. She has known about her status from a young age and is passionate about dispelling myths and supporting other young people living with HIV, especially when it comes to disclosing their status and building their confidence. She runs her own YouTube channel to speak out about HIV and help educate others about what it really means to be HIV positive.
She says: “I’ve always known I had HIV. I was bullied at primary school, but I became more confident at secondary school. I told my year group and they had a lot of questions – things like, ‘Can I catch it from sitting on the same toilet or eating the same food?’ People even said, ‘If I had the virus I’d want to kill myself’.
Channan has been supported by METRO charity, in London. METRO provides support for HIV-positive young people to become more confident in managing and disclosing their status and to develop the confidence to have happy and healthy relationships, improving their own wellbeing and reducing rates of future transmission.
She says: “A lot of people I know who have HIV are scared. You have to be very careful when you disclose. It can’t be a quick thing, you have to think about what maybe will come back, positive and negative, and the kind of people you want to tell.
“From my personal experience, it’s been quite positive but there have been some negatives. One boy said he likes me and he finds me beautiful, but he wouldn’t date me because I have HIV.”
Channan is part of METRO’s youth panel which is creating a series of interactive films to help young people manage the disclosure of their status, with funding from Comic Relief and M·A·C AIDS Fund. The different scenarios in the films will allow viewers to make choices along the way, seeing what happens when people do or don't disclose their status, and receive important information about support services available.
Channan says: “You hear about cancer and other illnesses on TV and everywhere else, but you never hear about HIV and I think that needs to change. Some young people can’t talk to their parents about it but groups like METRO’s are very good for them to get to talk to other young people with HIV to get support.
“I’m living with HIV and I have a lot of support but there are so many other people who aren’t as confident and can’t disclose. If I didn’t have the support there when I shared my status, I think I would have felt very isolated and very scared. Getting support when I needed it was so important.
“YouTube is a great platform for people living with it and to educate them. Knowing I’ve made a difference to someone else through my YouTube channel is very exciting. It’s spreading awareness and education to all, not just to young people but adults out there too.”
In 2017, Comic Relief and M∙A∙C AIDS Fund, the charitable arm of M∙A∙C Cosmetics, came together to tackle HIV and AIDS. In partnership, they have provided £2 million in grants to organisations working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities across sub-Saharan Africa and the UK. Grants are focused on improving the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS, and funding innovative approaches to increase prevention, care and support, and access to treatment.