The HIV community and sector has come together to share their lived experiences and the need to address stigma and discrimination at the Victorian State Launch of World AIDS Day 2019.
Every Journey Counts, this year’s theme for World AIDS Day, reminds us of the vastly different experiences, challenges and barriers that people living with HIV still face globally.
Keynote speaker, Doherty Institute Director, Professor Sharon Lewin AO lauded Australia’s bipartisan HIV response since the 1980s but said stigma hindered global elimination efforts.
“HIV stigma is alive and well, and remains our biggest shared challenge globally. It still remains in Australia,” Professor Lewin said.
Recounting a story of a young girl in South Africa, where the HIV incidence among women aged 18-25 years is as high as 50 per cent, Professor Lewin described the discrimination the 15 year-old girl had experienced.
“It was a tragic story of ignorance and stigma which I think is probably familiar for many Australians from decades ago,” she said.
Launching World AIDS Day 2019, Victorian Health Minister, the Hon Jenny Mikakos MP cited the Victorian Government’s recent change to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, as a way of reducing HIV stigma locally.
“Testing for HIV can now be expanded into peer-led models of care, increasing the range of organisations that can facilitate testing and reduce the stigma associated with testing,” Minister Mikakos said.
“The Andrews Government is proud to partner with the HIV sector and is committed to preventing and reducing the impact of HIV on Victorians, support people living with HIV, and reduce the number of new infections.”
Professor Lewin said the day was a time to reflect on those lost to HIV, but also on the extraordinary successes in Australia’s response.
“It’s also a time to identify and address the many challenges we still face in Australia and globally – every journey counts,” she said.
More than 36 million people globally, and more than 28,000 Australians, are living with HIV.
“Lifelong access to the most effective antivirals in a country like Australia is absolutely guaranteed, and so it should and must always be,” Professor Lewin said.
“Outside of Europe, North America and Australia, only four countries have been able to deliver Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) at-scale, an intervention we know is almost 99 per cent effective in preventing HIV.”
Living Positive Victoria President Adam Ehm, along with Stefan Joksic and Heather Magawgwa (delivered by Heather Ellis) shared their personal stories of living with HIV.
A community forum – moderated by Burnet’s Professor Margaret Hellard AM – discussed HIV and sexual health in Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Professor Hellard said it was important that Australians from all backgrounds needed to be part of the HIV response so that the country could meet its UNAIDS targets of 90-90-90: 90 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90 per cent of people who are diagnosed on treatment and 90 per cent of people on treatment virally suppressed.
“In Australia if we are to be successful in reaching the UNAIDS targets to end HIV, we are not going to do that by leaving behind sub-groups within our population,” Professor Hellard said.
Speaking on the panel at the community forum were Peter Waples-Crowe, Anne Roseman, Bev Greet OAM and Garry Sattell.