World AIDS DayDec 04, 2023
It was recently World AIDS Day where the theme for 2023 was: Inclusion. Respect. Equity.
World AIDS Day first started in 1988 by the United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS), the leading international body addressing the AIDS epidemic.
In Australia, it is a day for the community to:
- Show their support for people living with HIV
- Raise awareness about prevention, treatment and care
- Eliminate stigma and discrimination around HIV
- Remember people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses
So what is HIV and AIDS? HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an infection that when left untreated can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). People who have HIV may initially experience flu-like symptoms or none at all. Over time their immune system is impacted by HIV and they can develop AIDS, so they are susceptible to further illness. Due to the lack of treatment in the 1980s, as well as the ongoing lack of access to treatment today in many countries, millions of people have died from this disease. The development of antiretroviral therapy means that those with HIV who have access to treatment are extremely unlikely to develop AIDS, and are able to live a long, healthy life. This is usually the case in Australia.
Australia in 2021:
- An estimated 30,000 people were living with HIV
- 91% of people living with HIV had received a diagnosis (some people do not know they have been infected and have not been tested)
- Of those diagnosed, 91% were receiving treatment
- Of those receiving this highly successful treatment, 97% had a suppressed viral load (which is the amount of virus in the blood)
When people think of HIV and AIDS, they often think about the peak of the epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. As a sexual health nurse working in an HIV/AIDS clinic in London at the time, I remember a lot of the fear and stigma around HIV/AIDS, particularly because it is most commonly transmitted through sexual activity.
Some people will remember the grim reaper advertising campaign, it only ran for 3 weeks. The 6 week planned airing of the 60 minute commercial had to be cut short due to media criticism and public outcry. It was confronting and caused unnecessary fear, overstating the risk to the general public and demonising the LGBTQ+ community.
As parents and carers we play a crucial role in educating our kids on all aspects of human sexuality, including safer sex practices and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. One of the ways you can do this is by sharing this resource with your child. It has lots of helpful info for young people on topics such as safe sex practices, how to prevent STIs, and how to prioritise sexual health.
It’s important to get a sexual health check and to get tested for STIs before being intimate with a new partner. However, the fear and stigma around getting tested often prevents a lot of people from getting checked. As a result, cases of chlamydia and gonorrhoea largely remain undiagnosed in Australia. This report found that “more than one in 25 young people aged between 15-29 in Australia had chlamydia during 2021 but less than a third of those young people received a chlamydia diagnosis.” This is dangerous because when STIs remain untreated they can spread to other sexual partners through unsafe sex practices, and cause long-term health issues such as infertility. I know this sounds scary, but we need to remind our kids that STIs are easily treatable with antibiotics, and easily prevented through contraceptives (such as the male condom).
As parents we play a crucial role in educating our kids on all aspects of human sexuality. I know it might feel a little bit awkward talking to your child about sexual health checks or safe sex practices, but it’s been proven that it is best for their health and wellbeing when they are adequately educated by parents, guardians and teachers.
Let’s empower our kids with the knowledge on how to be safe and healthy! Not only will this improve their relationships, but it will help to reduce the fear, stigma and shame around these topics.