Anniversaries offer an opportunity to reflect on where we came from and the path ahead. This year marks 40 years since the first official reports of the condition later known as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). On World AIDS Day (WAD) 2021, we remember the more than 32 million people lost to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) worldwide. We’ll also look forward, remembering the 38 million people who currently live with HIV. But we’ll look forward in hope because of advances in HIV treatments and prevention. Once a possible death sentence, HIV is now a manageable, chronic disease. And, in 2021, we celebrate the lowest numbers of new infections, nationally and globally, since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.
Who would have thought we’d be here 40 years later, asking where to next?
Forty years of HIV
HIV arrived at a time when our communities could finally hope to one day achieve basic human rights. Following the 1969 Stonewall riots, the 1970s saw the first steps on the long march to equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Sistergirl and Brotherboy people and communities. In Brisbane, the Camp Club opened in 1971. Gay bars offered social opportunity and engendered a sense of community. For the first time, this country entertained serious discussion on the decriminalisation of male homosexuality.
But then snippets began to appear in the newspapers about a mysterious new illness affecting gay men in San Francisco — a gay cancer. The condition became known as ‘GRID’, gay-related immune disease. The trickle of information turned to a deluge and all too soon, the first cases of ‘GRID’ later called AIDS appeared in Australia. Our communities lived in fear of a deadly and untreatable virus with an unknown method of transmission. With the early Australian cases predominantly gay men and injecting drug users, a hateful discourse arose around a ‘gay plague’.
But our communities fought back, demanding government action, medical research and compassionate treatment.
In Brisbane, a small group of people came together to form a committee to act on the crisis. That small group was the genesis of the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health (QC).
Where to next?
In 2021, we enjoy access to an impressive array of medications to both effectively treat and prevent HIV.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), when taken as prescribed, is 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission. The medication can stop the virus from establishing an infection.
PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) can stop HIV infection following possible exposure to the virus. A course of PEP needs to begin as soon as possible after exposure, within 72 hours and continued for 4 weeks.
At QC’s new QCGP+, they offer access to both PrEP and PEP in addition to HIV testing, treatment, and numerous other services.
Today there are effective treatments for people with HIV. HIV treatment suppresses the replication of the virus in the blood to low levels, often termed as ‘undetectable’. People with an undetectable level of virus in their blood — an undetectable viral load (UDVL) — cannot transmit the virus. Medications for HIV are extremely effective. People living with HIV (PLHIV) can take treatment to prevent HIV from continuing to damage their immune systems and also feel confident when they have UDVL that they can’t pass on HIV to their sexual partners.
Sharing the U=U message helps to reduce HIV stigma, but this alone will not dismantle it. Unlike other manageable chronic illnesses, PLHIV experience discrimination, unwanted disclosure, and are often the ones tasked with educating the community alone. To truly improve the lives of all people living with HIV, everyone must take responsibility for educating themselves. Not just about U=U, but the challenges of PLHIV today. And working as a whole community to end the pervasive stigma that remains in Queensland. Only together can we hasten the end of the epidemic.
Creative Community Outreach
QC are also focused on creative community outreach to those disproportionately affected by HIV.
President Peter Black noted in early 2020 that “more effort is needed to reach and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy people, particularly in regional areas, as well as transgender and gender diverse people.
“We know they continue to face unacceptable barriers to appropriate and knowledgeable support and testing.”
QC’s aim is that all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Sistergirl and Brotherboy Queenslanders live longer and happier lives. Everyone in our communities should enjoy access to the services and supports they need.
QC embraces and celebrates the diversity of our communities through the 2Spirits program and our work with Transgender, Gender Diverse and Non-Binary people.
None of us are safe until we are all safe.
On World AIDS Day 2021, we look forward to a future of increased health equity and an eventual end to this terrible epidemic.
World AIDS Day 2021 events
Joins us on 1st December for candlelight vigils in Brisbane or Cairns or one of the many other WAD 2021 events across the state.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.