Hepatitis, HIV and Sexual Health Program

Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland

The 1st of December is World AIDS Day. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to raise awareness and show their support for people living with HIV. In 2017, an estimated 36.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and 27,000 of these were people living in Australia.

Despite Australia having a very low HIV infection rate, we still had 963 new HIV cases reported in 2017. Of these new cases, 185 were living in Queensland.  

One key HIV issue is that late diagnoses (tested HIV positive at least 4 years after HIV infection) is higher in some migrant groups in Australia – such as people born in Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia countries. People born in South East Asia countries have the highest undiagnosed HIV rate (27%) compared to the national average of 11% in Australia. (You can find details at https://kirby.unsw.edu.au/report/hiv-australia-annual-surveillance-short-report-2018.) This means many people originally from these countries are living with HIV and don’t know they have it. They can unknowingly transmit HIV to others, and develop advanced HIV, which can make treatment difficult.

HIV can affect anyone, regardless of age, ethnic background, religious belief or gender.  Everybody needs to have basic HIV knowledge and get tested and treated if needed. 

What is HIV and how do people get it? 

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It can damage the body’s immune system.  Without treatment, an HIV infection can eventually make the immune system very weak after many years of infection (average 10 years) and people then can easily get various diseases. People can die from these diseases. This is the final stage of an HIV infection, which is called AIDS – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

HIV can be passed on from person-to-person through sex, blood and mother to baby during pregnancy, child birth and through breastfeeding.

HIV doesn’t spread through sharing food and/or drinks, kissing, hugging, shaking hands or mosquitoes.

How long can people with HIV live?

People with HIV can live a long and healthy life like other people if they get tested and are treated early. However, if people with HIV don’t receive treatment, they could develop AIDS.   Globally, there was approximately a million people who couldn’t access HIV treatment and died last year due to AIDS.

Is there treatment for HIV? 

Yes, but there is not yet a cure. There are very effective treatments for HIV to control the virus and prevent AIDS. Because it is not a cure, people with HIV need life-long treatment to keep healthy.

Most people who are on HIV treatment can achieve a very low level of the virus (undetectable or a suppressed viral load) which means they cannot transmit HIV to other people.

How do people know they have HIV?

People with HIV may not have symptoms for many years. Some people may have flu-like symptoms in the early stage of HIV infection that can last a few weeks. Getting a HIV test is the only way to know if you have been infected.

In Australia, all GPs can provide a HIV test. You can also go to sexual health clinics to get a HIV test. To find a sexual health clinic near your home, please go to www.health.qld.gov.au/clinical-practice/guidelines-procedures/sex-health/services/find-service.

If positive, you can receive the best treatment and care available.

Where can I access HIV treatment and how much does it cost?

You need a HIV prescription to get HIV medication after a positive diagnosis. Only HIV specialists and GPs with HIV training can prescribe HIV medication. You can find a HIV GP at www.ashm.org.au/hiv/presceiber-lists

If you have a Medicare Card (for people who are Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents), you only pay a small amount of money to get the medication.  If you don’t have a Medicare card, you can order cheaper medication online. Please talk to your doctor or contact us for further information. 
How to prevent HIV?

There is no vaccination for HIV; it is very important to use the following methods to protect you and others:

  • Condoms

Condoms remain the most effective, cheapest and most accessible method to prevent sexually transmitted HIV, other sexually transmissible infections (STI) and pregnancy.

  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis, commonly referred to as PEP, is a 4-week course of anti-HIV drugs that may prevent HIV infection. To be most effective, PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure to HIV, preferably within 72 hours. PEP can only be prescribed by doctors at sexual health clinics and Emergency Departments in major hospitals. Some GPs with HIV training can also prescribe PEP.

  • PrEP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a kind of HIV medicine that can be taken by HIV negative people to prevent HIV infection. However, you can’t take another person’s HIV medicine to prevent HIV. As it is not a vaccine, it only works when you take it every day. If you stop taking PrEP, you will not be protected. You need a prescription to access PrEP and all GPs can prescribe PrEP. If you don’t have a Medicare card, you can access cheaper PrEP online at www.greencrosspharmacy.online.

  • Avoid blood contact to prevent blood-transmitted HIV.

What can I do on World AIDS Day?

  • Talk about HIV with your family and friends
  • Remind people that HIV is still a health issue in Australia
  • Tell people what you know about HIV and find out more information if needed
  • Wear a red ribbon to show your support
  • Participate in World AIDS day activities. You can find various activities in Queensland and HIV related information at qldworldaidsday.org.au

For more information and referral contact ECCQ:

Phone: (07) 3255 1540

Email: health@eccq.com.au

Website: www.eccq.com.au/health

 

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