The Big Issue : Edition 477
THEBIGISSUE6–19FEB2015 21 ILLUSTRATIONSBYEIRIANCHAPMAN We hadn’t actually had a sexual health conversation, which was probably even more stupid. “I was a mess. The thing wasn’t so much that I would become sick and potentially put my life in danger. It was more the issue that I would have done it to myself. I’d have to go to my parents and to my family and to my friends and to my employer, and tell them I’ve done this incredibly stupid thing to myself when I could have just used a condom during sex.” Daniel was tested and, after a nailbiting wait, was told he was all clear. But many people have not been so lucky. In fact, almost 30 years since the grim reaper ad, the rate of HIV in Australia is increasing – steadily and alarmingly. A 2012 report from the Kirby Institute (formerly the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research) showed the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Australia is at a 20-year high, and predicted HIV rates in Australia will rise by up to 73% over the next seven years. Last year, experts gathered in Melbourne for the 20th International AIDS Conference. While many important conversations were had, Associate Professor David Wilson from the Kirby Institute says it was a concern that leaders were ignoring these increases at home. He says: “It’s somewhat alarming in that, politically, the government has decided to sign up to declarations where they’re committing to large declines in HIV infection, but over the last 10 to 15 years we’ve only seen steady increases.” Awareness about HIV/AIDS in Australia seems to be remarkably low. Daniel now only ever has sex with a condom, but he says many people – particularly young people – haven’t got the message. “Before this happened I did have protected sex, but not all the time. You know, you use a condom, but you might forget it one time, you might think better of it another time. There’s the idea that, well, you’re safe. If you want to have sex with some guy you know in your bedroom, not in a toilet, not in some seedy club, but just in your own home, surely you can’t get HIV that way.” Alischa Ross, founder and CEO of YEAH (Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS), agrees that many people, especially young people, have become complacent. When she tells people about her work, they often remark: “Oh, AIDS... We’ve got a cure for that now, don’t we?” Ross says: “We have seen such a neglect in broader community awareness programs that...we have seen the largest rise in new HIV diagnoses in the last couple of decades.” Most HIV awareness campaigns are targeted at groups of people deemed most at risk, primarily men who have sex with men. But as homosexuality becomes more acceptable in the mainstream, young people are getting their information from different areas, and targeted campaigning is missing people. “I think we do actually need to see more mainstream messages,” says Ross.