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Why HIV Is No Longer A Death Sentence

A simple blood test can save a life

This week is HIV Testing Week and health authorities are encouraging Australians at risk of HIV to get themselves checked with a simple blood test.

According to NSW Health, research shows that men who have sex with men, but don’t identify as gay, are not being regularly rested for HIV.

Such was the case for 83-year-old Bill,* who was diagnosed with HIV approximately four years ago. “I was married very early in the piece, and had a couple of children and some grandchildren,” he told The Project.

Despite never having had any sexual relations with men before, Bill decided to attend a men’s club. “I suppose it was a physical release in some ways that I felt there was somebody there I could muck around with… I found solace there.”

Bill accepts he was naïve about protecting himself from HIV. “I originally assumed everyone had a condom. Obviously, somebody didn’t.”

Diagnosed with HIV at 80, Bill recalls having to break the news to his wife. “It was of course very difficult… but we haven’t spoken about it since the prognosis, so we keep it down.”

Over the past few decades, health authorities have been successful in communicating the importance of safe-sex and regular testing to the gay community. In fact, last year the number of gay-identifying men in Australia diagnosed with HIV reduced by 18% from the previous five years.

However, there is a cohort of Australian men who don’t identify as gay, but do have sex with other men, who have not been exposed to the same education.

“Previously, we stuck to gay press media… but if you don’t identify as gay, you won’t be exposed to those messages,” sexual health physician Dr Eva Jackson explains. “So, now what we’re trying to do is get it out in the mainstream media.”

Fortunately, if HIV is detected early, people are able to live unrestricted lives. “There are very good treatments and your lifespan will be the same as if you didn’t have HIV,” Dr Jackson states. “Also, if you have good treatment, we have this thing called ‘undetectable.’ It means if we take your blood we can’t detect the virus… So, you can’t transmit the virus on.”

Which is why Bill’s message is so simple: “Get tested, please. Regardless of whether you’re male on male or male on female.”

*Name has been changed.