Promoting AIDS awareness on World AIDS Day are HIV health maintenance officer Neil McKellar-Stewart (left) and ACON manager Dermot Ryan, at the Lismore ACON centre.
Promoting AIDS awareness on World AIDS Day are HIV health maintenance officer Neil McKellar-Stewart (left) and ACON manager Dermot Ryan, at the Lismore ACON centre. Cathy Adams

Remember HIV is still here

PETER and William live with HIV.

They asked The Northern Star not to use their real names because judgments surrounding AIDS and HIV could impact negatively on their lives.

Today is World AIDS Day, and the official theme in NSW is ‘HIV is still here’.

Despite looking healthy with no discernable signs of illness, Peter and William attribute their health and expected life span to the ‘wonderful’ drugs they take on a daily basis to boost their immune systems.

Nearly 500 people on the Northern Rivers live with HIV, which can lead to full-blown AIDS or bring on other conditions related to a poor immune system, like pneumonia or heart failure.

“HIV erodes the immune system. It eats away at every organ in your body,” Peter said.

“I had never been ill, and suddenly I was bowled over by illness,” William said.

Neither man wants to alarm people about HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

“These are just two stories of HIV, and some have not been as easy as ours,” Peter said.

“Today I’m not facing the sadness so many men faced 20 years ago when burying their partners and friends,” William said.

The height of fear in theearly 1990s when 1000 people died of AIDS in Australia left a social stigma that those who are HIV-positive are forced to live with.

Today, NSW is the only place in the world where HIV numbers have remained stable.

“There are 350 to 400 new notifications each year, but the rate has not increased,” Michael Badorrek, from the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON), said.

Lismore’s ACON is a welcoming house on Uralba Street, where those dealing with AIDS or HIV can go for information or counselling. ACON Northern Rivers manager Dermot Ryan said World AIDS Day was a way to getpeople thinking about the illness. Two of his partners died.

“We’re here for everyone, gay or straight, lesbian or HIV positive,” he said. The most effective way to prevent HIV was to wear a condom when having sex, he said.

North Coast Health area manager of HIV, Jenny Heslop, said that while it mainly affected gay men in Australia, 20 per cent of infections were among heterosexuals.

Wear a red ribbon today to support AIDS Day, or donate www.redribbonday.org.au


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