These are my remarks for the launch of World AIDS Day 2009 this morning at Parliament House in Melbourne.
Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has provided a moment for all of us to reflect on the impact HIV has had in our lives and communities, to recommit ourselves to ending the HIV epidemic, and to remind the broader community that, while HIV may have almost disappeared from the headlines, it is still with us.
Last year in Victoria there were 261 notified new HIV diagnoses. This year the number is likely to be similar. Every year when these numbers are released, there is a lot of discussion and debate about whether they’ve gone up or down, and what that means for our HIV prevention efforts. But every one of those 261 diagnoses is also a human story.
Every one of those 261 is a person who had to hear the word ‘positive’ and know that their life was changed forever. Two hundred and sixty-one people who had to think about how to tell their families, their partners, their friends about what has happened to them. Two hundred and sixty-one people who will have to make decisions about their health, their sexuality, their future now with the added complication of HIV. Two hundred and sixty-one people who will need our support, compassion and care in the years ahead.
This year, the theme for World AIDS Day is ‘Take Action. No Discrimination’. The theme reflects the need for a continuing effort to reduce the impact of HIV while respecting and reinforcing the human rights of people living with the virus. It is a message for governments, communities and individuals alike.
Taking action means accepting that all of us have a role to play in bringing an end to the HIV epidemic. Positive or negative, gay or straight, male or female, we all have a shared responsibility to be part of the prevention effort. I would like to acknowledge the continuing commitment of the Department of Health to supporting investment in community sector organisations to deliver prevention, care and support services.
No discrimination means respecting the human rights of people living with HIV. More than a quarter of a century after the first HIV cases occurred in Australia, people living with HIV continue to report unacceptable levels of discrimination. HIV stigma continues to be an insidious force that strikes positive people in the most devastating way, turning their families, friends and communities against them, all because of fear and ignorance.
We are fortunate in Victoria to have good protections against discrimination, but there are some areas where reform is needed. Recently the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS has called for reform of criminal laws relating to HIV transmission, and we support this call. At the federal level, enabling access to HIV treatment for people deemed ineligible for Medicare is an area needing urgent action, as is reform of immigration laws which treat HIV as a more serious barrier to permanent residency than other diseases with similar costs and impacts.
On these and other issues, PLWHA Victoria will continue to work with our partners in the community sector, and state and federal governments to work towards a legal framework that reflects the reality of HIV today.
These are not abstract issues for us. They are real, immediate and often brutal in their impact. As the global theme for World AIDS Day says, we are living our rights.