The following is a condensed transcript of a Q&A with HIV experts at our World Refugee Day M-CAN Forum: Access for All.
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
There is not yet a cure for HIV but people living with HIV may go into treatment very early, which is now the recommendation, once you’re diagnosed you start treatment. And that may in fact restore your immune system back towards the levels of a person who is not living with HIV. And because you have a strong immune system you will not become vulnerable to what we call opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers that will occur in a person whose immune system has been depleted and exhausted by say 8-10 years of living with HIV.
So 8-10 years of untreated infection makes our poor old immune system very depleted and unable to fend off bacterial infections and cancer cells that it would normally just kill immediately. And those infections and cancers are AIDs illnesses. So a person may in fact develop an AIDS illness, get treatment for their HIV and AIDS illness, and never ever experience an AIDS illness again.
How do you find out if you have HIV?
There’s no way of actually looking at someone and seeing if the have HIV. We have just moved into the era of the home testing kit which we advocate for, obviously with the proper guidelines and support systems.
Where can you go if you are Medicare ineligible?
The Green Room at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre is one place you can go.
Is there knowledge about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)? What are the barriers to treatment prevention and access?
There is a knowledge gap. Some African migrants notice a lack of advertising about HIV in Australia and perceive that this means there is no HIV here. That means people aren’t aware of the risks. There are other factors too: Being a woman, you may not know all the sexual behaviour of your partner. Even when people are going in to see their GP, there may not be those discussions about sexual practices and risk factors, which is another barrier.
Get your free sexual health screening here.
Book an appointment with Dr. Penn at North Richmond Community Health in Richmond to learn more about PrEP.
All appointments are bulk billed. This means they are free of charge if you have a Medicare card.