To end HIV transmission, stigma and discrimination in Queensland by 2020 we must raise awareness about how HIV is different now, and dispel the myths and misconceptions that still exist around HIV. In this section you will find information on:
It may surprise you to learn that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) are still shrouded in myth and misconception, despite decades of awareness campaigns and improved access to information through the internet.
For instance, did you know that 47% of people still think HIV and AIDS are the same thing? Or that 21% of people think you can get HIV from kissing?
HIV is different now. Over the last few years, HIV treatment and prevention have changed significantly in Queensland, Australia, and the world. With major advances in testing and treatment, people living with HIV are now being diagnosed earlier and living long, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Knowing the facts about HIV is an important part of preventing it. Many people fear HIV because they do not know the facts, such as how HIV is transmitted or what it is like to live with HIV.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If HIV is undiscovered or untreated it can affect a person’s immune system—the body’s defence against disease. When HIV attacks the immune system, it can cause many different infections and illnesses known as "opportunistic infections".
Today, there are several effective treatments available to treat HIV and stop the virus from damaging the immune system. However, if left untreated, HIV can progress and cause Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the most advanced stage of infection.
It’s important to note that HIV is not AIDS. Due to advancements in treatment and testing in Australia, HIV rarely progresses to AIDS.
AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It’s a term which only applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. AIDS cannot be transmitted between people; a person with HIV is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so severely damaged by the virus that it can no longer fight off diseases and infections that the body would normally be able to cope with. These “opportunistic infections” can now be prevented with treatment.
HIV transmission can be simplified to a three part equation:
It is important to understand that HIV cannot be passed on through saliva, vomit, urine or faeces. You cannot contract HIV from kissing, hugging, sharing eating utensils, shaking hands or any other everyday social contact.
HIV can only be transmitted by the following fluids from a person with HIV coming into direct contact with another person and entering their bloodstream:
- Vaginal fluid.
- Rectal fluid.
- Breast milk.
HIV is commonly transmitted in the following ways:
- Having sex without condoms or a condom breaking (vaginal, anal, or oral).
- Sharing needles and other drug injecting equipment contaminated with blood.
- Other blood-to-blood contact.
- Mothers who are HIV positive can transmit the virus to their baby (during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding).
In Australia, there is no longer a risk of contracting HIV through donated blood and blood products (e.g. blood transfusion) as all donated blood, organs, tissues and semen are screened for HIV.
Anybody can get HIV. HIV is a virus; it can enter the body if you are rich or poor; young or old; black or white; gay or straight; married or single. It’s what you do, not who you are, that puts you at risk.
If you or someone you know is at risk of contracting HIV, learn more about HIV prevention and testing. You can get confidential advice any time about HIV by contacting one of Queensland’s HIV organisations.
In the video below, you will hear inspiring true stories from Queenslanders living with HIV and the stigma they and their loved ones deal with every day. Learn how, despite the many misconceptions surrounding HIV, they continue to live and love life to the fullest.
Regardless of context, the causes and consequences of stigma and discrimination are the same worldwide. People living with HIV can find it hard to tell others about their condition for fear of rejection or prejudice from friends, family, colleagues, or members of their local community, not to mention prospective sexual/romantic partners. The stigma surrounding HIV may also cause people to feel reluctant or fearful of having an HIV test or accessing treatment and care.
HIV prejudice is often the result of a lack of knowledge about how HIV is passed on and an unfounded fear of becoming infected. By encouraging people to talk about HIV, learning the truth and reducing your own stigmatising behaviours, the stigma surrounding HIV can be overcome.
Here are some examples of everyday stigma to avoid:
- Referring to HIV as AIDS.
- Presuming that because someone is living with HIV, they’re sick, contagious, or dying.
- Believing HIV can be contracted by casual contact or kissing.
- Using the word “clean” when referring to a negative HIV status, or combining drug use with HIV status, often referred to in online personal ads as the acronym, “DDF”. A better acronym to use is “SSO”—safe sex only.
- Dismissing, judging, or rejecting someone when they disclose their HIV positive status.
- Perceiving people living with HIV as promiscuous, or “deserving” of becoming HIV positive.
- Discussing someone’s HIV status, whether it is rumour or factual, without their consent or knowledge.
- Avoiding getting tested for HIV for fear of a positive result.
- Laws criminalising people living with HIV.
To find more HIV stigma infographics and learn more about HIV stigma visit www.thestigmaproject.org.
In 2018 - 2019, the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) conducted the Stigma Audit to try to understand stigma in an Australian context. The results showed a moderate experience of stigma was experienced by participants who completed the survey:
- 34% of respondents agreed with ‘I feel guilty because I have HIV’.
- 77% agreed with ‘telling someone I have HIV is risky’.
- 35% disagreed with ‘I never feel ashamed of having HIV’.
- 42% agreed with ‘I work hard to keep my HIV a secret’.
- 40% agreed with ‘most people think that a person with HIV is disgusting’.
- 40% agreed with ‘I have been hurt by how people reacted to learning I have HIV’.
Notably, the media was singled out as an ongoing source of stigma for people living with HIV.
For more information on how to ensure that media reports on HIV in Australia are accurate and sensitive, visit the HIV Media Guide Toolkit.