I WAS in my early teens when HIV and AIDS first really gained worldwide exposure. This was the era of the Grim Reaper advertising campaigns as an HIV diagnosis back then almost without exception a death sentence from full-blown AIDS.
Exact figures vary, but one I found this week suggests AIDS has killed more than 36 million people worldwide between 1981 and 2012.
It robbed the world of both the rich and famous and the poor and unknown as millions were forced to mourn loved ones who were taken by AIDS.
In the three decades since, medical science has made enormous leaps in fighting HIV and AIDS.
No, we don’t yet have a cure, but modern medicine has allowed a great many people diagnosed with HIV to manage their condition and life a good quality of life.
An estimated 35.3 million people are said to be currently living with HIV and, sadly, an average of around 1000 Australians are newly diagnosed with it each year.
According to NSW Health, one in six people diagnosed with HIV in this state report heterosexual exposure, and at least 10 per cent of people with HIV don’t know they have the virus and could unknowingly pass the virus onto others.
And it’s these statistics that Murrumbidgee Local Health District’s (MLHD) HIV and related program manager Alison Nikitas hopes will prompt more people to get tested for HIV.
Once a person is diagnosed, they can start treatment and improve their health outcome as well as prevent the virus from being passed onto others.
“A person with HIV who is on treatment in 2016 can expect a near-normal life expectancy and to live a healthy life. Health professionals now view and treat HIV like any other chronic manageable condition,” Ms Nikitas has said.
As you might imagine, in this week leading up to World AIDS Day today, health professionals across NSW are encouraging people considered “at risk” of HIV to be tested.
In addition to encouraging gay and homosexually active men to continue regular testing, NSW Health is also encouraging other groups to get a test.
The first of these is heterosexual men and women with behaviours putting them at risk of HIV, such as men who identify as heterosexual but who have sex with men or people who inject drugs.
Also on the list are people from countries where there are high rates of HIV and people who have had unprotected sex while travelling.
Across MLHD, HIV Testing is available at Griffith, Wagga and Albury Community Health Centre, where it free and confidential. You can also speak to your local GP.
To mark World AIDS Day, the documentary Transmission: The Journey from AIDS to HIV will be screened at the Museum of the Riverina, next to the council chambers on the corner of Baylis and Morrow streets, Wagga, from 6pm to 8pm tonight (Thursday), followed by a panel discussion.
As I remember the days when an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. I am truly grateful for how far medical research has brought us.
Yes, treatments for HIV have improved immensely, but it’s still not a cure.
We need to keep fighting, not only to find a cure, but against complacency that might creep into younger generations that do not remember how many people the Grim Reaper snatched in those earlier days.