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U=U message central to addressing HIV stigma

Photo: U=U message central to addressing HIV stigma
More work still needs to be done to educate health care workers and families that when it comes to HIV, undetectable equals untransmissible (U=U), clinical experts say.

U=U is a central message for World AIDS Day on 1 December.

The concept, now endorsed by major health and research organisations worldwide, is based on accumulating evidence over the past decade that shows people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load – the amount of HIV in the blood – by taking and adhering to antiretroviral medication as prescribed cannot transmit the virus to others.

Bolton Clarke Clinical Nurse Consultant HIV Annie Boulton said a significant role for the organisation’s HIV team was addressing the significant gaps in knowledge that still exist for many health and aged care workers.
“The general community isn’t up to date with the latest developments and knowledge around HIV,” Annie said.

“U=U has a lot of meaning for people living with HIV and their families, friends and support networks.

“A big part of what we do for people who are newly diagnosed is to downplay the terror that can be associated with HIV and promote the positive opportunities that are now available with modern treatment options.

“This concept means people can still have a partner, a child and a normal life expectancy.”

Annie said tackling fear and stigma around HIV was an ongoing task.

“Education is a constant part of what we do – you still encounter a lot of fear, stigma and discrimination, even among care workers.

“If a person with HIV has a negative experience with a care worker it can alienate them and worsen their internal stigma.”

Supporting older people with HIV is a growing focus.

Bolton Clarke’s specialist HIV team supports around 200 people living with HIV in Melbourne each year and conducts research to help inform health care workers about the specific needs of the HIV positive community.

That includes 2016 research showing older people living with HIV are experiencing multiple co-morbidities at an earlier age than non-HIV positive people. This means people may need to access higher levels of support at a younger age.

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