This week from the 27th of November to the 5th of December is Aboriginal & Torres-Strait Islander HIV awareness week. This week is about spreading awareness to people about HIV and breaking down the stigma associated with HIV.
Many Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people in Australia are living with HIV. In fact in 2016 it was estimated that 574 Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people are living with HIV in Australia and of these people, 20% are living with undiagnosed HIV. The rate of HIV diagnosis is 2.2 times more in Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islanders than in non-Indigenous Australians. (See the Kirby Institute Report here)
What is HIV?
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s natural way of fighting infections. If HIV is left untreated then it can develop into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
How do you get HIV?
HIV is spread when body fluids containing the virus such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal fluid or breast milk, enters the blood stream of a person who does not have HIV. The most common way of contracting HIV is by having unprotected anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV. However you can also get HIV by:
· Sharing injecting drug equipment like syringes or needles
· Sharing or using unsterile body piercing and tattooing
· Transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or while breastfeeding if the mother is not taking HIV medication.
HIV cannot be spread through everyday social contact, such as shaking hands, sharing food or drinks or hugging and kissing. Saliva, tears, sweat and urine do not carry HIV. You also cannot get HIV from insect or animal bites or by using the same toilet as a person with HIV.
How do I know if I have it?
People can have HIV and feel and look healthy. Even if they have no symptoms it is possible to spread HIV.
People may have some symptoms after contracting the virus however; the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested for it.
Testing for HIV is really simple! Testing is done by taking a blood sample. Testing can be done at a sexual health clinic, an Aboriginal Medical Service or by your local GP. Don’t be shame to ask for a test. Getting tested for STI’s or BBV’s means you are looking after your health. If you are unsure where to find any of these places check out the Find a Service search or the Health Engine website.
Living with HIV
It is important to know that you can still lead a normal healthy life if you have HIV and are taking daily medications. The daily medication will help to reduce the amount of HIV in your blood. This medication doesn’t cure HIV completely but it makes the HIV levels so low that it becomes undetectable. It is important to keep the HIV at a low level so that your immune system grows stronger and you stay well and you will not pass on HIV to someone else.
For more information on living with HIV check out this video.
Who do I speak to if I need advice about living with HIV?
There are many services out there which can provide information about living with HIV. One of them being your doctor or pop into your local Aboriginal Medical Service such as the Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service and ask to speak to a Health Worker or Doctor. They will keep all of your information confidential.
If you simply just want to find out some more information there are a variety of websites which can offer this such as:
Remember you mob, speak up if you have HIV so your HIV can be managed and it will help you live a long, normal and happy life. If you know of someone living with HIV be supportive!! Let them know you are there to support them. You can support them by going with them to an appointment, watching a video with them or helping them find out more about HIV. Let’s spread awareness so that our mob can lead strong healthy lives!!!