What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

How is HIV spread?

HIV is spread through body fluids including blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal mucus, and breastmilk.

HIV cannot be spread through saliva/kissing, hugging, shaking hands, toilet seats, insect bites, sharing cutlery or crockery, or eating food prepared by someone who is HIV positive.

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Dr Barbara Nattabi:

I just want to reiterate that HIV and AIDS are two separate things. So HIV which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus, while AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is actually the disease you get because you have HIV. So HIV as I said is a virus that was discovered in 1983. There are two types of HIV, HIV 1 and HIV 2, but the most common one is HIV 1. Now, HIV is transmitted through various ways. HIV can be found in an infected individual in their blood, in their semen, in their vaginal fluids and in their breast milk as well. Therefore HIV can be transmitted from one person to another during sexual intercourse. HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child when she is pregnant, when she is delivering the baby, and also when she is breastfeeding the baby. The other ways in which HIV can be transmitted but is much rarer, so for example a blood transfusion, or someone who is using, injecting drugs, using contaminated needles. These are the major ways in which HIV is transmitted.

How do you receive a HIV diagnosis?

HIV is usually diagnosed by testing your blood or a sample of cells taken from inside your cheek. The test will show if there is a presence of antibodies to the virus.

If you are concerned about your potential exposure to HIV, you can ask your General Practitioner or visit a sexual health clinic. They will discuss the test with you and whether there are ways to reduce your risk of contracting HIV in future.

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Dr Barbara Nattabi:

Antiretroviral treatments are drugs which are used for treatment of HIV, particularly to ensure that we reduce the level of virus in the blood. Now there are various forms of antiretroviral therapy, for example you can use antiretroviral therapy to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, you can also use it to prevent HIV negative people from contracting HIV and we call that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP). But the major forms of antiretroviral treatments that we know of are those provided to HIV positive individuals to ensure that their immunity gets better and their overall quality of life improves. So in summary antiretroviral treatments are those that are provided to HIV positive individuals to reduce the viral load.

What are antiretroviral treatments?

The medications used to fight HIV are called antiretrovirals. They work to stop the virus multiplying. This helps to protect your immune system from the damage caused by HIV.
There is no cure for HIV and AIDS, but medicines have been developed that reduce the severity of HIV. Many people with HIV live long and relatively healthy lives.

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Dr Barbara Nattabi:

We’ve come a long way over the past 40 years of HIV treatment and care. It's a major miracle what has happened in the HIV field, what was a life sentence is no longer a life sentence and people with HIV can live very long, fruitful lives. Having children is a wish for many people, even without HIV, but people with HIV can also aspire to and attain in Australia. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we have a strong health system, where people actually care for all people regardless of their backgrounds, and fertility treatments are just one way of attaining a HIV negative child, so if a HIV positive couple aspires to have a child in this country it is a dream that they can attain.

What causes HIV stigma?

HIV stigma is rooted in a fear of HIV. Many of our ideas about HIV come from the distressing images that first appeared in the early 1980s. There are still some misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted and what it means to live with HIV today.

The lack of information and awareness combined with outdated beliefs lead people to fear of getting HIV. Additionally, many people think of HIV as a disease that only certain groups get. This leads to negative value judgements about people who are living with HIV.

HIV stigma in the queer community?

From the beginning of the epidemic, HIV has been associated with male homosexuality because gay men were among the first groups affected by HIV in developed countries.
HIV is mistakenly associated with male homosexuality. This may lead to increased discrimination.

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Dr Barbara Nattabi:

The literature shows that there have been quite a number of situations where health workers have actively discriminated against people with AIDS who are interested in having children. And unfortunately this leads to poor care, and poor quality of care. So when health workers have shown stereotyping or discriminating attitudes towards people living with AIDS who want to have children it makes it very difficult to make a decision on having children but also accessing proper care. But this would usually be in a situation where 1) health workers aren’t properly trained in HIV care or not properly trained in ART as well. But in situations where ART is now freely available and has been shown to prevent mother to child transmission those sorts of cases of stigmatising attitudes have generally decreased over time and health workers have generally been found to be more positive towards people living with AIDS who want to have children.