U And Me Can Stop HIV: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week 2015admin
U And Me Can Stop HIV: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week 2015
HIV Australia | Vol. 13 No. 3 | December 2015
By James Ward
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week (ATSIHAW) is an annual program of events that seeks to raise awareness about the impact of HIV among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Although the inaugural event was only held twelve months ago, it is already well recognised as key event for raising awareness and mobilising action to address HIV among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
This year, after much preparation, the 2015 ATSIHAW program is a bigger affair than 2014, with numerous events organised nationally. This is vital, as ATSIHAW 2015 occurs at a time when raising awareness about HIV among our communities is more important than ever.
HIV diagnoses among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is increasing, yet for many years now there has been little or no investment by governments targeted at enhancing our communities’ knowledge and awareness of HIV.
While the number of annual HIV diagnoses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is fairly low at present (around 30 new diagnoses per year), in 2014 the notification rate of newly diagnosed HIV infection was 1.6 times higher for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population compared to the non Indigenous population (5.9 vs 3.7 per 100,000 in 2014).
The potential exists for HIV to escalate rapidly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population – as has been the experience in other Indigenous populations globally. This potential is due to three main issues:
- very high rates of other sexually transmissible infections (STIs) exist in many communities, and the presence of these increases the chances that HIV can be transmitted
- increasing rates of injecting drug use – including increasing rates of methamphetamine (ice) use in Aboriginal communities, and
- the close proximity of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the Torres Strait Islands, and the mobility and interaction of PNG nationals and Torres Strait Islanders. PNG has the highest recorded rates of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the five year period 2010–2014, when comparing rates of new HIV infection among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population with the non- Indigenous Australian born population, a higher proportion of notifications were attributed to injecting drug use (16% vs 3%); heterosexual sex (20% vs 13%); and 22% vs 5% of new HIV diagnoses were among females.
Based on CD4+ cell counts at diagnosis, in 2014 a third (30%) of the new HIV diagnoses among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were determined to be late.
The 2015 ATSIHAW was launched at Wuchopperen Aboriginal Health Service in Cairns on the 30 November.
Speakers included Assoc Professor James Ward, SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute), Dr Mark Wenitong, Apunipima Cape York Aboriginal Health Council, HIV-positive speakers, and youth and elders from the Cairns region and community.
The launch was followed by a training day on Tuesday the 1 December for health service staff working in the Cairns region, to learn about updates on HIV diagnosis, risk factors, prevention strategies, treatment updates, care and management of people living with HIV and outbreak management – including privacy confidentiality stigma and discrimination.
On 2–3 December, ATSIHAW, in partnership with the HIV Foundation Queensland, ASHM (Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine) and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, hosted a high level summit in Brisbane to discuss strategies and actions for moving forward an agenda that is urgently required.
The Summit, opened by the Queensland Health Minister, the Hon Cameron Dick MP, was held in recognition of the need to urgently address the fact that STIs and blood borne viruses are part of our communities’ overwhelming burden of disease, particularly:
- for remote communities – STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomonas), as well as hepatitis B
- for urban and regional areas – hepatitis C and chlamydia
- emerging HIV transmission risks from drugs such as methamphetamines (‘ice’) – both due to unsafe injecting and condomless sex.
During ATSIHAW, community events were held across Australia at over 30 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in most jurisdictions and at other HIV organisations such as AIDS Councils, aimed at raising awareness of HIV in our communities.
Our Facebook page lists all the events and happenings for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week 2015.
ATSIHAW also recruited high profile Ambassadors to help spread the word about HIV in our communities and the roles all individuals can play in stopping HIV.
Our ATSIHAW Ambassadors include Prof Pat Anderson AM, Prof Kerry Arabena, Dr Marlene Kong, and Mr Dion Tatow, to name a few.
SAHMRI is hosting a national exhibition of artworks by Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists from all of Australia’s states and territories and the Torres Strait Islands.
The HANDPRINTS exhibition tells stories of how HIV can affect our peoples, our families and our communities. This exhibition is about our Dreaming – our creation, our land, our people, our totems, our past and future.
You can read more about the planning, rationale and success of some of the ATSIHAW events throughout the pages of this edition of HIV Australia, as well as discussion about key programs and research projects being led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, to stop the spread of HIV and STIs.
Associate Professor James Ward is Head, Infectious Diseases Research Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health at South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and a guest editor of HIV Australia.