HIV rate drop­ping

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIELLE STREET

SAFE sex is keep­ing Ki­wis free of HIV but dis­crim­i­na­tion is still a big prob­lem for those al­ready in­fected.

Fig­ures from the New Zealand Aids Foun­da­tion show the num­ber of new HIV in­fec­tions among gay and bi­sex­ual men has dropped by 39 per cent since the be­gin­ning of 2011.

The num­ber of cases among het­ero­sex­ual peo­ple has also been fall­ing con­sis­tently since 2006 when im­mi­gra­tion laws tight­ened to in­cor­po­rate HIV screen­ing.

The coun­try now has the low­est HIV rates in a decade.

But Jane Brun­ing says those with the virus are still bat­tling stigma and the shame that comes with it.

Ms Brun­ing con­tracted HIV from a sex­ual part­ner while work­ing in Tan­za­nia in 1988 and fol­low­ing her di­ag­no­sis was told she had just three years to live.

Fear meant she hid the disease from her son, friends and wider fam­ily.

‘‘You feel like you have HIV stuck on your fore­head and ev­ery­one can see it and they are go­ing to treat you badly,’’ she says.

But im­proved med­i­ca­tion ex­tended her life ex­pectancy and she slowly told those in her in­ner cir­cle.

Ms Brun­ing fi­nally came out pub­licly eight years ago when she started work­ing at Pos­i­tive Women, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps women who are HIV pos­i­tive come to terms with their di­ag­no­sis.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has a drop-in cen­tre and of­fers women’s re­treats. She says many women who come through its doors have tus­sled with em­ploy­ers, fam­ily, doc­tors, day­care and them­selves in the ef­fort to keep dig­nity in­tact.

‘‘Shame is a big fac­tor in liv­ing with HIV. We talk about com­mu­nity stigma, but there is also in­ter­nal stigma, be­cause of­ten some­one might have had those same per­cep­tions be­fore they con­tracted HIV, and when they con­tract it they carry on those per­cep­tions about them­selves.’’

Ms Brun­ing says the lat­est fig­ures are en­cour­ag­ing but it is im­por­tant not to be­come com­pla­cent.

‘‘We shouldn’t stop talk­ing about HIV. We need to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion to cut down the stig­ma­ti­sa­tion and in­crease preven­tion. The more we can ed­u­cate peo­ple, the more un­der­stand­ing peo­ple be­come.’’

New Zealand Aids Foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Shaun Robin­son says the drop in new in­fec­tions is a byprod­uct of a re­fo­cused aware­ness cam­paign.

‘‘The big change has been that we really had to re­think our preven­tion work, we shifted from a health ed­u­ca­tion model to a so­cial mar­ket­ing model which just pushes the ac­tion, like the Get It On cam­paign.’’

Car­toon im­agery por­tray­ing con­doms as a nat­u­ral part of sex is a key part of the project run by the St Marys Bay-based or­gan­i­sa­tion.

‘‘It’s ac­tu­ally worked much faster than we ex­pected,’’ he says. ‘‘I don’t think there is any other coun­try in the world that is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this kind of success.’’

But Mr Robin­son also says prej­u­dice re­mains a prob­lem.

‘‘On a day-to-day ba­sis prob­a­bly the big­gest is­sue for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV is dis­crim­i­na­tion.

‘‘We get cases all the time of peo­ple be­ing shunned or put-down be­cause oth­ers are scared if they let peo­ple live in their flat they’ll catch Aids for ex­am­ple.’’

HIV is only con­tracted through blood-to-blood con­tact or sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and can­not be passed on through kiss­ing, hold­ing hands or eat­ing from the same cut­lery.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Go to auck­land­c­ity har­bournews. co.nz and click Lat­est Edi­tion to hear Jane Brun­ing tell her story about liv­ing with HIV. Pos­i­tive mind: Jane Brun­ing has lived with HIV for 25 years and says ed­u­ca­tion is a key to de­creas­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion around the disease.

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