A Harpenden mother-of-three has defended saying "only African people" could contract HIV in a television interview.

Rachel Dilley, 48, contracted the disease in 2004, just before her 40th birthday, after starting a relationship with a man she met online.

Ms Dilley appearing on ITV’s This Morning yesterday to speak about her diagnosis, and has been criticised for saying she "hadn’t realised white people got it."

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

Speaking to the St Albans & Harpenden Review after the interview, with hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, she said: "I have been made to look racist and I am very disappointed that it has come across that way.

"It has just been dramatised and I have been made to look bad.

"When I made that comment I was talking about me being naive at the age of 10 or 11-years-old, when the only advert I would have seen was in Africa of African people dying of AIDs. I just assumed that it was only something that happened there.

"That may have been ignorant, but I am just being honest and I know it sounds silly now but I am just being truthful about what I would have thought as a young child growing up."

Having split up with her partner of 20 years and the father to her children, Ms Dilley embarked on online dating.

She began dating a man called Simon and over the course of the summer, their relationship progressed physically.

Because of her age, she said she knew she wasn’t going to get pregnant, and took the risk of having unprotected sex.

During the interview she said she hadn’t even thought of the risks of HIV: "I didn’t know anything about HIV. No one had taught me about it. I didn’t even know it was possible to catch it."

The relationship between Ms Dilley and Simon was over within a few months and shortly afterwards Ms Dilley said she began to feel unwell, with a swollen glands, temperature, shivering, a sore throat and loss of appetite.

After initial tests were inconclusive she was then asked, to her surprise, to take a HIV test.

She said: "I thought why?

"I just didn’t know anything about it. I know it sounds stupid but growing up i had seen an advert on TV in Africa of people in Africa dying of AIDs.

"I thought you could only get it in that country. I didn’t realise a white person had ever had it."

Two weeks later, Ms Dilley received the devastating news that she was HIV positive.

Defending her comments Ms Dilley explained to the Review that it was a lack of education.

She said: "Growing up I didn’t have a TV and Mum and Dad didn’t have much money and when we did have a TV we weren’t really allowed to watch it.

"We certainly wasn’t taught it at school and it wasn’t something that was out in the open when i was growing up.

"I am not racist and I don’t want people to think I am racist."

After the interview Ms Dilley said she now hopes to help break down the stigma, discrimination and the naivety she once had surrounding the condition.

She said: "Youngsters will go out and think it is okay to have unprotected sex but it is not."

Ms Dilley is also a trustee of The Crescent, a HIV charity based in St Albans, which lost its funding from Hertfordshire County Council in June 2011. Volunteers now struggle to keep the Russell Avenue centre open.

Iain Murtagh, head of operations, has used his savings to keep it running until now.

Ms Dilley added: "We cannot give up and Iain has been great. I don’t know how he does it, but he does."