Byron Shire Lighthouse was illuminated red over the weekend to commemorate World AIDS Day on Sunday and to highlight a new plan to end HIV in Australia by 2020.
While it is more than 30 years since the first diagnosis of HIV in Australia, we are getting closer to ending the epidemic, says event organiser Franklin John-Leader.
Mr John-Leader, regional health promotion officer for HARP (HIV and Related Programs) says while there has recently been a spike in infections, there is now the opportunity to knock the disease out altogether with a new, three-point strategy: test often, treat early and stay safe.
‘With the advent of new treatments making HIV a manageable disease, it’s important that people who are HIV positive are treated early,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Treating early gets on top of the disease before it has a chance to compromise the immune system and ensures that an infected person’s viral load is reduced so that passing on the infection accidentally is less likely.
‘It’s also important that sexually active people – and gay men in particular – get regular HIV check-ups,’ he said.
‘Another important factor of World AIDS Day is ending the stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV and encouraging people to come forward for HIV testing and treatment.’
Dr Natalie Edmiston, HIV Staff Specialist with North Coast HARP, said the introduction of rapid HIV testing in Lismore made testing for early diagnosis and treatment much easier.
‘The new easy finger-prick screening test for HIV can give a preliminary result within 20 minutes – while you wait,’ she said.
Of course safe sex and regular condom use remain the key to avoiding the disease’s spread.
While HIV has become much more manageable, it still requires a lifelong drug regime to control it.
‘The most effective way for people to protect themselves and their sexual partners in reducing the spread of HIV is to use condoms consistently and have regular HIV and STI testing,’ Dr Edmiston said.
Mr John-Leader said that complacency and so-called ‘safe-sex fatigue’ among the gay community were not major factors in recent diagnoses.
‘That’s a bit of a myth, actually,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘In fact we find most gay men contracting the disease usually have safe sex but have just had a slip-up.’
‘That’s why it’s doubly important to test often,’ he said.
To find out more information or to book a rapid HIV test call (02) 6620 2980 or visit the Ending HIV website.