Charlie Sheen announced he is HIV positive and spoke of numerous threats from former sexual partners and confidants and of the $10 million he had paid over four years  to buy their silence. The focus on his story created an opportunity for renewed discussion and reflection on how we as a community can improve awareness and respect for people living with HIV. Hopefully Sheen finds public and personal support , he described revealing his HIV status as releasing him from the " prison" of hiding this part of his life.The purpose of World Aids Day is to raise awareness in the community about the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS , show support for people living with HIV and commemorate those people who have died.

HIV still exists in Australia, there were 1,081 new HIV cases diagnosed in Australia in 2014.  an estimated 27, 150 people in Australia live with HIV.  The majority of new cases ( 75%) occur among gay and bisexual men. HIV can affect anyone. There is treatment taken daily to keep HIV under control and the person healthy, but no vaccine or cure. HIV can be prevented and being informed about how it is transmitted is important. Today people living with HIV can lead long and healthy lives with a similar life expectancy to someone who does not have HIV.

HIV is not spread via air-bourne droplets, it can not be spread by hugging, kissing, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, not sharing toilets, using eating utensils or by eating foods prepared by someone who is HIV positive.  People living with HIV on appropriate treatment, and who have a low viral load have a very low risk of transmitting HIV to a HIV negative person.

To reduce the risk of HIV transmission :

  • Always practice safe sex. Sex can be made safer by using a male or female condom together with water-based lubricants. ( 70% of Australian transmissions in 2014 occur among men who have sex with men, and 19% to heterosexual sex))
  • Medical procedures, tattoos, piercings, acupuncture,  stem cell transfers and blood transfusions in some countries and in unsterile conditions are risk factors
  • Sharing needles, razors and personal care items are a risk factor as blood-bourne viruses such as HIV may be transmitted via blood ( 3% of transmissions in 2014 were attributed to injecting drug use)
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis ( PEP) is available if you think you have been exposed to HIV. It is a four week course of antiviral medications which may stop HIV becoming established.  The drugs must be taken within three days of exposure to the virus.  PEP can be accessed through sexual health clinics and GPs who specialise in HIV/AIDS or through Hospital Accident and Emergency Departments.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis ( PrEP) is a prevention option for those people who are at high risk of getting HIV. It is meant to be taken as a tablet daily and to be used with other options such as condoms. The medication is Truvada, a combination of two antiviral medications.

Ignorance about HIV transmission contributes to stigma and discrimination. HIV has always been associated with behaviours considered morally suspect - homosexuality, drug use and promiscuity. The impact if this is a lack of compassion for people living with HIV and  people living with HIV are associated with such behaviours or identities. There remains a stigma and silence around HIV. Those living with HIV expect fear, judgement and blame and may chose not to disclose their HIV status, creating an immense burden irrespective of how they contracted the virus.

The "Fear Less, Live More" campaign by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations encourages people living with HIV to actively challenge their own fears and negative feelings about being HIV positive. ( fearlesslivemore)

The WA AIDS Council will screen "Its Not Over" in Perth city to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS on 1st December 2015, Northbridge Piazza, at 6.30pm

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