If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious stage when it is considered as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The biggest issue faced by New Zealanders living with HIV is not poor health or access to treatment, but the stigma and discrimination that surrounds the virus.
Saturday 1 December is World AIDS Day and MidCentral District Health Board Medical Head of Sexual Health Dr Anne Robertson says medical advancements have turned the corner on HIV.
A decrease in the number of cases of HIV infections, viral loads (the number of virus particles in the bloodstream) so low they are undetectable, and medication available to prevent the spread of HIV are illustrations of the new medical landscape for HIV in 2018, she says.
“Today’s HIV prevention and treatment is a stark contrast to the past. But despite these game changers Kiwis living with HIV still have to face misconceptions on a daily basis,” she says.
The international U=U (undetectable = untransmittable) campaign, running since 2016, highlights that antiretroviral treatment can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels and that people living with HIV, who are receiving the right treatment and care, no longer risk transmitting HIV to their sexual partners.
The campaign aims at changing the way people understand what an HIV diagnosis means and lifting the stigma of HIV by opening up the social, sexual and reproductive lives of people living with HIV.
Another medical advancement is PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), medication that prevents people from catching HIV.
PrEP is now funded for people who meet certain criteria and research shows that it’s highly effective in reducing new cases of HIV in high risk populations.
“Saturday the 1st of December its World AIDS Day and it is exciting to be part of the medical advancements that have turned the corner on HIV,” says Dr Robertson.
It’s estimated that there could be as many as 500 Kiwis living with HIV who have no idea they are infected. A person who has recently contracted HIV and is unaware, risks transmitting the virus to others. If you have had unprotected sex, you can get a free and easy HIV test through MidCentral Sexual Health Service on 0800 808 602.
You can also get tested through your GP or at YOSS if you are under 24.