HIV: The stigma remains in Rockhampton

ABOUT 60 people may be living in Rockhampton with HIV, but they're also living with stigma.

Peer-based advocacy organisation Queensland Positive People (QPP) will be in Rockhampton later this month as part of their outreach visit to service those in the area who are living with the diagnosis.

Treatment and management support officer Sue Gilling, who has provided support to people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Rockhampton area for the past five years, says the people she tends to see are often highly socially isolated.

"They are very concerned about stigma and privacy in a small regional town," she said.

"Even going to a support group they are concerned about those people preserving their identity.

"Someone walking into their local GP and saying they are HIV positive, there are implications for that person in smaller and regional areas."

QPP programs manager Chris Howard said the stigma associated with HIV hadn't changed in decades.

He said the public fear associated with the virus was a product of misinformation in the community.

"The one thing that hasn't changed for people living with HIV is their experience of living with stigma and discrimination," he said.

"People still believe that HIV and AIDS is the same thing. People still believe that you can contract the virus by sharing cups, utensils; by hugging or kissing someone.

"Perhaps in regional locations, because there is not a visible community of people living with HIV, it tends to be more difficult to get messages out there."

Mr Howard said many of those diagnosed with HIV would internalise stigma, and begin to see themselves negatively.

The secondary issue to stigma is, of course, the reluctance to seek support and treatment.

"Stigma surrounding HIV continues to prevent people from getting tested and from seeking treatment and support. It also prevents people from disclosing their HIV status.

"If we wanted to get a message out there it would be that HIV is different now and if diagnosed and treated early that people can expect to live a normal, healthy life. There is no need to fear HIV or people living with HIV," Mr Howard said.

"HIV is a virus which can and does impact anyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

"Most of the transmissions occur for people who don't know their HIV status. People living with HIV who take treatment as prescribed have such low levels of HIV in their blood that they don't transmit HIV."

HIV Facts:

HIV is a virus. AIDS is a condition brought about by the virus HIV; you can have HIV without having AIDS

HIV can only be transmitted from an infected person to another through direct contact of bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions

Saliva, tears, sweat, faeces and urine are not infectious

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