Real Lives: David led from the front to tackle stigma of HIV

David Johnson, director of Waverley Care, is to step down after 17 years in charge.When David Johnson is asked to sum up how the stigma of HIV has lessened over the years, he recalls one example.

The Waverley Care director, who will take up a temporary role with the Scottish Government from next month, casts his mind back more than a decade to a hospice fundraiser.

St Columba’s and Marie Curie hospices were joined at the event by the charity’s Milestone Hospice.

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“One person put their hand up and said they wanted to make a donation,” he said.

“But they then made it perfectly clear it was only to go to the other two hospices, because people using our service basically deserved what they got. Thankfully, the other two refused the donation on that basis.”

Mr Johnson, a popular figure in the organisation and with people living with HIV in the Capital, reflects proudly upon his tenure.

The 60-year-old from Newington began working with people with HIV in other organisations, when the role at Waverley came up.

And he said that as the stigma had lessened, so the quality of life for those affected by the disease had improved.

He said: “I remember working in Pilton in the 1980s, where HIV was seen as basically a death sentence.

“A lot of our work used to be with parents making memory boxes for their children, because they knew full well that they would die before the children grew old enough to remember them.

“That was very moving at times, and I remember one instance where a woman who’d been given earrings by her mother put them in a box to pass on to her daughter.”

But thanks to awareness and needle sharing programmes, levels of the infection were pushed down in the Capital, and improvements in treatment now mean someone diagnosed with HIV can more or less live a normal, long life.

“But then it was more focused on drug users, and now we have the challenge of gay men contracting the disease,” he said.

“We’ve not been as good at reaching out to them, and we need to understand more about the complexities of why that is.”

Although reaching retirement age, he has no thoughts of slowing down.

His government role is maternity cover related to HIV, and he is unsure of where he will go after that.

“I feel privileged to have worked here,” he added. “And I’m most proud of the number of people with HIV we helped who then became employees of our organisation.”