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The enemy is AIDS, not those who live with it


AIDS logoWhile some groups still believe that people infected with HIV should be stigmatised as a deterrent, the majority view at this month’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne is that victims and the social groups to which they belong must be empowered. 

The media is being encouraged to listen to stories such as Sarah’s:

As a young woman, I was 21 when I was diagnosed, and it's that, it takes away your whole impression of what your life will be like. … And social stigma as well. It's really hard, like to be a young woman diagnosed, there's no education about it, you don't know how people are going to react to you. It's really scary, it's really scary.

Religious groups, school teachers, and the media can all choose to be part of the problem, or part of the solution, a source of fear or hope.

A few weeks before the conference, a health services practitioner in an eastern Victorian town reported that he or she was HIV positive. One media outlet played the fear card when it quoted a patient: ‘[I felt] pretty sick actually, very sick in the stomach’. 

Meanwhile the health worker had had the psychological strength to report his or her HIV positive status to authorities. This enabled them to take proper precautions, and it was therefore unlikely that any patients would contract the virus. If he or she had been been overcome by fear or shame, it is doubtful the alarm would have been raised, and the population would have been placed at greater risk.

Some continue to worry that infection rates are rising despite numerous campaigns, and feel that we therefore need stronger deterrence. In other words, greater stigma place on those living with HIV. The more positive way of thinking is to empower people in this situation to share their stories and experiences.

Associate Professor Trevor Cullen of Edith Cowan University is an expert in health journalism and reporting infectious diseases, especially AIDS. He is currently spearheading a pilot program promoting positive media education. He’s delivered media training to Conference delegates at the Melbourne AIDS Conference, and says: ‘Research has shown that if effectively used, the media can lessen fear and stigma which are the biggest obstacles to seeking information and treatment.’

Former justice Michael Kirby is arguing that law reform is also essential in the fight against marginalising groups that are vulnerable to the AIDS infection. These include men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners and refugees.

He says: ‘The law can be a guardian of people who are vulnerable and who are sick but the law … can be a burden on the person and their freedom, on their ability to see the importance of getting the HIV test, and getting onto antiretroviral drugs if they turn out to be positive.’

To this end, Victorian health minister David Davis has announced a move to amend the law criminalising intentional HIV transmission. Kirby praises the reform, adding that it is important that the message ‘should go to Africa, to Russia and other countries where [discriminatory] laws exist – and we should not be polite in the delivering of that message’.

Where the law and the media are prepared do stand with those living with the HIV – and not against them – there is hope that all concerned will take the necessary rational steps to contain the virus.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

AIDS logo image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Family Voice, HIV, AIDS, Michael Kirby, ACON, GLBTI, health



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Existing comments

What's so different about HIV/AIDS? Why do flap our hands about dirigiste campaigns on this issue when we don't with the dangers of tobacco smoking, unhealthy diets, excessive alcohol, and so on? Are some lethal habits more politically correct than others? Why are we so coy to point out that certain lifestyles - drug use, male homosexual sex in particular and casual sex of all kinds, and prostitution, cause an enormous number of physical and psychological ailments and that liberation from those lifestyles means physical health and a potential to flourish? Why the conspiracy of silence that sucks in victims every day? How is that "standing with" the victims and potential victims of HIV/AIDS?

HH | 25 July 2014  

So when will Mardi's organizers purge reported 'sisters of perpetual indulgence' float, insulting nuns, who 24/7 care for HIV victims less than a kilometre away from the derisive cavorting

Father John George | 27 July 2014  

Justice Kirby (the great dissenter) is correct. People living with AIDS do not need their freedom curtailed. They need to be treated with the same respect, and autonomy, as others in the community.

Pam | 28 July 2014  

I`m confused by what the message is here. Remember that it is only "people living with HIV/AIDS" who infect others. Thus, constraints need to put around autonomy to protect those that are vulnerable to new infection. There is a positive expectation that medical practitioners will alert authorities to their positive viral status (Hep B etc as well as HIV), on pain of sanction. when TB was rife individuals had to go to sanatoria, the main value of which was isolation from the community. There should be expectations on HIV positive individuals to protect others, backed by law.

Eugene | 28 July 2014  

Australia led the way with interventionary education about HIV and AIDS, it can do so again with this second wave of infections. Just as we have seen on our Tv's the poignant accounts of people who are living with tobacco caused cancers, there would be a place for dignified accounts of people living with HIV and AIDS getting the message across that HIV and AIDS is a preventable disease.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 28 July 2014  

AIDS is the most destructive communicable disease that has afflicted humanity in its history. The basic science which aims to eliminate the disease and thus protect humanity is long-established and essentially demands control and eventual elimination of the pool of infection. Until we stop the politically correct rubbish and recognise that, millions more innocents will die.

john frawley | 28 July 2014  

Quite so, John, control is the issue. That happens to include diagnosis and treatment along with prevention. Treatment has to be both affordable and available. It is salutary for us to reflect that in some sub Saharan African countries 30% of inidviduals of reproductive age are HIV-infected. And is HIV the most destructive communicable disease in the history of mankind? I think not, compared to the great plagues of the Middle Ages ( which wiped out a quarter of the population of Europe in the 14th century) , smallpox and the Spanish flu.

JR, Sydney | 28 July 2014  

Did the Aids Conference in Melbourne, advised men and women especially the young ones to practise Christian Value and they will be safe from the Aids epidemic?

Ron Cini | 28 July 2014  

Yes, EUGENE, there is already a legal requirement in Australia for HIV positive people to disclose that status to any potential sexual partner is there anything else that you think might be required? And the best way to prevent infection apart from the use of condoms is treating infected individuals with the BEST medications. Practitioners are almost at the point of concluding that those on the latest antiretroviral treatments are practically incapable of infecting someone, even without the use of condoms. But of course, it's all about money - and the big pharmaceutical companies are not going to allow these medications to flood into Africa and other AIDS ravaged 3rd world regions without first making a huge profit. And HH, i'm sure the people who are infected with HIV know how they got it!

AURELIUS | 28 July 2014  

OK Aurelius, point taken. But, the best answer lies in controlling personal behaviour, taking responsibility for yourself and those around you, and not just relying on anti-retrovirals to bail you out post-hoc. And that`s as true in Africa as it is in Australia.

Eugene | 29 July 2014  

"If your drunk, drive slowly on quiet streets". Is that our advice to drinkers? No: it's "Drink, drive, you're a bloody idiot." The very best advice to prevent contracting serious STDs including HIV is not "If you're having casual sex, use a condom", but: "Don't have casual sex." Or, to be consistent: "Have casual sex, you're a bloody idiot." And how about packets of condoms with pictures of STDs on the box? The outcry against such a suggestion would indicate how captive we are to the politically correct at the expense of real peoples' well being.

HH | 29 July 2014  

P.S. Excellent points, Eugene.

HH | 29 July 2014  

Spot on, EUGENE, and if we follow the advice from a famous Catholic bishops in Africa -the solution to the AIDS crisis is about human dignity. If women don't value themselves, they won't look after themselves (ie either refuse sex or insist on condoms). And in Australia, if gay men don't have any self esteem, they are not going to look after themselves. And as for HH's suggestion - no wonder you don't reveal your identity with those crackers of comments. You may as well be quoting John Laws. If you are referring to sex as an addiction, fine, but HIV is now pandemic.

AURELIUS | 29 July 2014  

So what if it's called a "pandemic", Aurelius? In Australia, the US, Canada and other Western countries according to the epidemiological stats for the last couple of decades, the evidence is overwhelming: when men decide to stop having casual sex with other men and drug addicts decide to stop using and swapping dirty needles (there's a huge intersection between these two cohorts, of course), the incidence of HIV infection (and many other diseases) will plummet. The pandemic disappears. How is that possibly disputable, even if someone like John Laws might say it (I have no idea if he does)? And don't you want that? I do.

HH | 29 July 2014  

Alright, HH, people will stop having sex (and yes, gays are people too) when they die. Unfortunately for people with an aversion to sex - it's part of life - whether you lime it or not. But people with HIV in AUstralia don't die from HIV. It's the people in third world countries who are dying from what is not a preventable and practically treatable/manageable disease.

AURELIUS | 30 July 2014  

Aurelius Australians do die from HIV! While HIV diagnosis rates fell throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, in recent years the annual number of new HIV diagnoses has been steadily creeping back up, and on the rise=flip side of HIV antidotes. [Even if HIV,Cancer and ilk pathologies are medically contained ,who wants to live with it unless one is at ease with a Damocles sword of medicated pandemics and history of HIV "outsmarting" ongoing antidotes?] #

Father John George | 30 July 2014  

Aurelius, many people will stop drink-driving, chain-smoking, or countless other self-destructive acts, only when they die. Remind me what your point is.

HH | 30 July 2014  

Sorry Ron, I don't understand. Which 'Christian value' is it that will make young people 'safe from the Aids epidemic'?

Ginger Meggs | 31 July 2014  

HH said 'And how about packets of condoms with pictures of STDs on the box?' Are you suggesting that the use of condoms leads to STDs? Your comparison with tobacco and cancer is fatuous.

Ginger Meggs | 31 July 2014  

I'm suggesting that casual sex, even with ideal condom usage (as opposed to real world outcomes ) leaves one vulnerable to a wide range of STDs. Transmission of HPV, syphilis, crabs, and genital warts is left largely or totally unaffected by condom usage. And one is still vulnerable to transmission of HIV, Hep B and other semen-borne STDs in the frequent events of condom failure (slippage, breakage). Such "empowering" facts would seem to merit graphic disclosure on a pack of condoms, a la cigs/cancer. Not everyone is as informed about such things as you no doubt are, GM.

HH | 31 July 2014  

P.S. Just to clarify: my remarks concerning a hypothetical labeling of condom packets are not to be taken to mean I consider the use of a condom during natural intercourse, or the selling or sharing of a condom for a purpose, to be ever morally licit. Whether use of a condom in male-to-male "sex" in order to prevent HIV transmission adds to or subtracts from gravity of matter of these non-marital acts is I believe an open question. Nevertheless, selling or otherwise supplying a condom to be used for such purposes is I believe unjustifiably proximate material (where not formal) co-operation in a seriously disordered act.

HH | 01 August 2014  

My point HH is that sexual expression in consensual adult relationships is not an abomination. Let's talk about world issues and justices amd things we know about and can control - there are enough of those - and leave what adults do in the privacy of their bedroom, to a discussion on the other side of the Pearly Gates.

AURELIUS | 01 August 2014  

Some have played and lost roulette with HIV virus; some have been victims of selfish others; medical workers unfortunate; whatever, HIV/AIDS is real and growing worldwide. Big money is spent on treatments and research, media coverage, education and law. Are we treating the cause or just the symptoms? Do we and those with the virus have courage to act rightly? We fear Ebola, of course we fear HIV/AIDS. How complicated can each life become?

Mary | 16 January 2015  

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