WHEN Mildmay Hospital first opened its doors to people with HIV
in 1988, its beds were filled with young gay men preparing to die.
Local barbers were afraid to cut the hair of staff working at the
hospital. Ambulance drivers would turn up wearing protective suits.
Helen Taylor-Thompson, who chaired the hospital at the time,
recalls bricks flying through the windows.
"There was this new illness seen to be killing people," recalled
the hospital's executive director, Ross White, in July. "People
didn't really understand what the mechanisms were. It's easy to see
how that fear culture was perpetuated."
On Monday, Mrs Taylor-Thompson and Mr Ross were present to
witness the blessing of the new Mildmay hospital by the Archbishop
of Canterbury. It has 26 en-suite rooms, and rehabilitation
services for the 82 per cent of patients who are able to return
home after their stay. Fewer than one per cent of patients die at
Mildmay. Some of the rooms are designed like studio flats, to
enable patients to practise independent living. There are ingenious
aids such as a rubber device that removes jar lids. Counselling,
physiotherapy, speech and language therapies, and music and art
therapies are all on offer. Volunteers accompany patients on
outings to re-learn skills that they may have lost, such as
catching a bus or going shopping. In a nod to the visits by the
late Diana, Princess of Wales - Mildmay is where she was filmed
shaking hands with a patient - the two wards are named "William"
Twenty-six years on, the patient profile has also changed: about
two-thirds are black African heterosexuals. Mr Ross reports that
there is "huge denial" in this population. "People won't go and get
tested. They won't talk about HIV, and it's a big problem."
One consequence of this stigma is that patients present late,
when their symptoms are advanced. Mildmay is the only centre in
Europe dedicated to the rehabilitation of people with HIV
Associated Neurocognitive Disorder (HAND): a form of dementia that
can be reversed through treatment with antiretroviral drugs. Many
patients come to Mildmay unable to walk, speak, or feed themselves,
and require 24-hour care, but more than half return home to
independent lives. This can happen within 40 days.
On Tuesday, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Margate, the Revd John
Richardson, who chairs the Board of Trustees, described the "fight,
the resistance, the prayer, the battle" to secure Mildmay's future.
As a small hospital, with fewer than 200 beds, it was regarded as
uneconomic and closed in 1982, but Mrs Taylor-Thompson battled to
reopen it. Today, it receives 80 per cent of its funds from the
NHS, but the finding the remaining 20 per cent is, Mr Ross says, a
Archbishop Welby blessed the new building in front of staff,
patients, and supporters. "I was really struck by the
outward-looking attitude of this place," he said. "That spoke to me
very powerfully about what we need to do."
He wrote in Mildmay's visitors' book: "You are the arms of
support, the everlasting arms."
CHRISTIANS with HIV told their stories at St
Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, last month, writes
More than 100 people, including those living with and
caring for people with HIV, attended "Love Tenderly, Act Justly:
Stories of HIV and Christianity Today", an event organised by
Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support (CAPS), Changing
Attitude, St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Terrence Higgins
They saw a new film produced for the conference
featuring HIV-positive Christians, and heard from Canon Gideon
Byamugisha, an Anglican priest in Uganda who announced that he was
HIV positive in 1992. Seven workshops were run by theologians and
Robert Calderisi, an author and expert on development,
asked: "Is there any excuse for the continued spread of this
disease in a society as fortunate as ours? Why should people living
with HIV and AIDS still have to live in the shadows, worrying about
discrimination at work or in society? I can think of some Italian
and French nuns I have met in Africa - bless their example - who
would have a thing or two to say on the subject."
Cate Jacobs, who has lived with HIV for nearly 20 years,
said: "To be diagnosed HIV-positive is to be diagnosed with the
most socially unacceptable disease on the planet. . . Of challenges
and joys, a story of transformation; for nothing has honed and
shaped me quite like HIV has. . . You get to drink from the well of
life and taste every drop."
The chairman of CAPS, Vincent Manning, said: "HIV
remains a significant issue in society and in the Church, and as
people of faith we have an important contribution to