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Challenge the stigma of HIV this World AIDS Day

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A visit by two HIV positive women to Palmerston North Hospital has shed light on the experiences of those diagnosed as HIV positive, ahead of World AIDS Day tomorrow (1 December).

Kjel Griffiths (left), and Heather Sangster-Smith.

Heather Sangster-Smith and Kjel Griffiths both come from very different backgrounds, and both admit they probably wouldn’t have met, had it not been for the shared diagnosis of HIV. Heather is middle-age, while Kjel is younger, and has transitioned from male to female. As they both said, HIV is the great leveller.
Dr Anne Robertson, MDHB’s medical head of sexual health, said their visit was a great chance to highlight the level of misunderstanding that still exists around HIV.
She said: “There are still many myths around HIV. One of these is that it only affects gay men. This has been well debunked since the ‘AIDS epidemic’ of the 1980s, but the myth still persists. The reality is that anyone engaging in unprotected sex is at risk of catching HIV, with most HIV cases worldwide being transmitted through heterosexual intercourse. It is also transmitted in a variety of other ways, including using shared-needles or from mother to child.
“It’s also widely assumed that HIV is a death sentence. Recent research has shown that those with HIV in first-world countries may actually live longer, as they are required to take better care of their health than the rest of the population. As long as medication is available to manage the virus, it’s not terminal.
“Sadly, you still hear stories of people worrying when an HIV positive person sneezes, just in case they spread HIV, or people being worried that their child’s teacher is HIV positive. These worries are not only baseless, but also have a very negative impact on the lives of those with HIV.
“The most important message that all this is trying to convey, is that it’s so important to get tested. You can sometimes have HIV, even if no symptoms are present, so if you have unprotected sex with a person, and you’re not sure of their status, make sure to get regular checks. This is also important for other sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea.”
For a FREE and easy HIV test, contact MidCentral Sexual Health Service on 0800 808 602. You can also get tested through your GP or at YOSS if you are under-24. Testing is also available from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation at
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a disease that compromises your immune system. If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious stage when it is considered as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

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