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Jogging Up Facts: AIDS Trust of Australia

The information exists somewhere in the backstreets of our memory, but like the facts within our high school textbooks, a foggy distance has grown around it – one that expands daily through feeds of “more recent” media and what is deemed to be in the “public interest”. Except HIV/AIDS, unfortunately, doesn’t merely stand in the shadows of our history, nor does its pertinence in society. There may not be a billboard declaring that there are approximately 20 new cases within Australia every week, that there was a 22% increase in infections among youth aged 20 to 29 last year or that regional areas of the country are facing a growing epidemic, but the facts are there, whether we choose to listen to them or not – only in this case, ignorance is fatal.

One of the organisations that tries to evade the calamity of unawareness is the AIDS Trust of Australia, which was established in 1987 by the then Governor-General in response to concerns about the growing HIV epidemic. Today its role revolves around raising money for the care and support, awareness and prevention and social research for HIV/AIDS. It essentially approaches corporate bodies and individuals for support, and explains to them how they will see a result from their financial investment.

One of the primary concerns within the organisation and about the condition at large is the delivery of HIV/AIDS-related messages today. After all, the delivery of messages is perhaps the most significant cost in the world, and as CEO Greg Gahl explains, “the further you move away from the core constituency, the further away such a message becomes”. So places within country Australia and other regional areas throughout the world – where general knowledge is not so tuned in – have become hard hit simply due to the lack of information about the condition. Location aside, the prevalence of any public information at all has overtly been reduced since the 90s – the evidence of which is obvious if you think back to the last time you saw an advert about HIV. It is a decline which is in direct correlation with the condition’s rise in the past few years.

“Prevention and awareness messages need to be in place to remind people. They have been missing for more than a decade,” says Greg.
“The nature of HIV relates to way people convene on planet, and Australia is lucky in that it is territorially isolated but that means there is an isolation from information as well. There is also a fear of stigma and discrimination among regional youth, so they don’t ask questions or get the care they require.”

Stigma has always been an underlying catalyst to many of the problems associated with both the prevention and social attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, and one which Greg says requires different approaches in different communities: “It is important to make people understand. If they don’t, there is confusion, people invent their own answers to questions, and they then become guided by things that are not true. AIDS Trust tries to reintroduce HIV as a balanced discussion.”
A society cannot choose to be selective about HIV and well-being, but because the condition is related to sex, there are a broad range of social responses – and a message should not polarise a community.”

Along with the delivery of information, other current concerns within the HIV/AIDS sector include travel and its ability to connect people, which has inevitably spread HIV/AIDS across the geographical landscape – be it through youth travel, work opportunities (such as mining towns) or truck drivers. There is also a growing infection rate in indigenous communities, which is fast becoming a fundamental national health issue. One particular concern is that children within these communities are being born with HIV – a fact that is further placing Indigenous Australia into the confines of a third world health epidemic.

For people like Greg Gahl, HIV/AIDS has been an unavoidable force in his life for nearly 30 years. In 1981, he lost the first in a long line of friends who would fall victim to the eventual demise that HIV inflicts.

“I don’t care what people say so long as they say something,” he explains. “I am personally aware of the human cost of HIV, and my drive is to prevent it from penetrating further into Australian society.”

“I want every school kid leaving school to know about it, just like they know to look left and right when they wander into the street. I want the HIV message to be imprinted in their life.”

To make a donation to the AIDS Trust of Australia, please visit their website.

words: Seema Duggal


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