People with HIV illness must be evaluated for their ability to work "with care and professionalism" warns a visiting UK HIV expert. His advice follows the NZ Government's announcement early last month that it is changing sickness benefits "to shift people’s attitudes and set genuinely different expectations about being available for work." "We need to be very compassionate with someone who may have been told they may be dead soon and then told: 'You're going to live but you are not going to be well,'" says Dr Mark Nelson, Service Director for the HIV Directorate at London's Chelsea and Westminster hospital which has one of the highest caseloads of HIV infected people in Britain. By far the majority of people infected with HIV in New Zealand are gay and bi men. Dr Mark Nelson "Having HIV means you have health issues which can be unmeasurable," Nelson says. "If you had a broken leg it's pretty obvious you've got a broken leg. But with HIV there are a lot of mental health issues and a lot of ill-health associated with the drug treatments." "A lot of the people who can't work, you wouldn't be able to measure why they can't work," according to Nelson. "Sometimes its a mental thing, sometimes a physical thing, but it's not something where you can say: 'Look at these blood test results...'" Nelson doesn't believe anyone "has the right to tell someone with a chronic illness like HIV that 'you can do this or that.'" His advice to assessors is: "You're a professional, listen to the patient and do a proper assessment... there are very few people with HIV who I know are pulling the wool over people's eyes." And a doctor is not necessarily the best person to do the evaluation either. In the UK, Nelson says, "they've said that in this situation the wrong person to ask is the doctor. It has emerged that occupational therapists are a good source of information on a patient." Nelson's advice is backed up by HIV positive people's support and advocacy organisation Body Positive which adds that an HIV positive person's state of health can change radically from day to day and from week to week. "Many people have times when they can do some work and other times when they feel so lousy they can hardly get out of bed," says BP General Manager Bruce Kilmister. For those HIV positive people who are fit to go back to work, "they need to be helped through that," says Nelson. "Instead of just being told 'that's the end of your benefit' there must be some kind of phased process." Nelson also says that, based on his experience in the UK and brief observation in New Zealand, more young people with HIV need to become involved in HIV activism and that HIV positive patients often need to be more actively involved in their treatment decisions and drug combination choices. Nelson's visit to New Zealand, on the eve of World AIDS Day, was sponsored by HIV drug manufacturer Janssen-Cilag. You can discuss this New Zealand gay community news story in the GayNZ.com Forum.
Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff
First published: Thursday, 1st December 2011 - 12:59am
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