Former British minister HIV positive

LONDON - Former UK cabinet minister Chris Smith has been HIV positive for the last 17 years, he has revealed to a newspaper.

Chris Smith, one of the first British politicians to come out publicly as gay in 1984, told the Sunday Times he decided to announce his condition after the former South African President Nelson Mandela said his son had died from AIDS.

"What Nelson Mandela said very much struck a chord with me," Smith, 53, said. "He spoke about how nobody should be ashamed of HIV and said that it should be regarded just like any other illness. He was brave and right."

Smith, who was Culture Secretary from 1997-2001, said he did not inform Prime Minister Tony Blair about his condition.

He plans to retire as a member of parliament for the ruling Labour Party at the next election expected in May.

"I didn't feel the need to tell people except for a very, very few as it was not in any way affecting my work," he said.

He was first diagnosed in 1987.

"When I first heard about it, I was really worried because there was hardly any treatment, but I was lucky and fairly early on I was put on AZT (drug)," he said, adding that he had kept healthy through a combination of drugs and diet.

Mandela announced his only surviving son, 54-year-old Makgatho, died of AIDS on January 6. The 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate urged a stronger fight against the disease.

- REUTERS

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