(from “Mancunian Matters”, April 10, 2013)
[Although this man has begun treatment after 30 years, this was apparently on the basis of low CD4 counts, not illness, and he may well not survive long, dying a horrible death, as at least one of his partners did on the drugs.]
A Manchester man has managed to live with HIV for 30 years without taking medication usually needed by sufferers to survive – but this week he finally had to begin treatment.
Michael Snaith, 57, of Collyhurst, has until now defied the advice of friends and medical experts and shunned conventional treatment which prolongs the lives of those affected.
Furthermore, he puts the miraculous longevity of his life with the disease down to sheer luck, however he has known those who have not been so lucky.
“This is my 31st year living with HIV and my first year on medication and to be perfectly honest I don’t know how I’ve managed it,” he said.
“But I have practised by the rules. I don’t have any unfair sex, no drugs, I don’t drink.”
And Michael’s ‘practicing by the rules’ goes a lot further than many.
He said: “I’ve been celibate for the last 15 years and had no relationship. It’s all about fear really.”
Originally from Bradford, voluntary HIV campaigner Michael believes he has cause to be sceptical of the benefits of drugs and treatment.
He candidly discussed how three of his companions died from the disease, with his first real partner dying from HIV at the age of 31.
He said: “I’ve buried three partners. I clearly remember the day he died in my arms.
“I’ve been afraid of taking drugs because of how he died but I’ve been told by friends that the drugs are keeping people alive.”
Due to the rate that people with the disease were dying 30 years ago, Michael believes this was the reason he was moved on to disability allowance, but it has now been taken from him. However he has found it almost impossible to acquire full-time employment.
Classed as a ‘slow progressor’, he has still had pneumonia twice, and it was when he was treated on the second occasion that it was found his CD4, white blood cells which fight infection, were low.
Since diagnosis Michael has always practiced safe sex, and classes it as a permanent motto, but he caught his disease through a youth of free sex and also ended up catching gonorrhoea.
This led to a complete change in lifestyle, including giving up alcohol which he used ‘as an escape’ when first diagnosed.
In an unusual twist, Michael has a daughter and now granddaughter from a one-off pre-diagnosis encounter.
He was worried that because he did not then know his status he could have had it when his daughter was conceived – but luckily this was not the case.
At one point, Michael hid his status from others, including his father, who died without knowing his son had the disease.
Now Michael, from this week on four tablets per day for HIV and three for high blood pressure, has learned to appreciate life.
“I’m not afraid or ashamed of my HIV status,” he said. “I’ve got to live with it and all its consequences.
“But I must confess, I’m pretty proud of my achievements. I’m still here and still campaigning to raise awareness 30 years on, so I must be doing something right.”
A Manchester HIV expert said it was ‘highly unusual’ for someone to survive this long without medication and explained that it was only in cases where the disease was classed as ‘slow progressor’, as was Michael’s.