It’s Women’s Health Week and we’re talking about health checks for women.
There is still this misconception that HIV is something which only affects men who have sex with men. When in fact, HIV is something that can affect anyone who is sexually active, including heterosexual women.
In Australia, women represent more than 10% of new diagnoses each year. And even though that number is relatively low compared to the rest of the world (where women represent 53% of all people living with HIV), it’s still too high.
Addressing the stigma
We often hear that women avoid asking their GP for an HIV test because they fear being judged. Or they are told they don’t need it because they’re ‘not in a high risk category’.
We were speaking with one of our female staff here at BGF who said, “The first question I get asked when I go to my GP out in the suburbs and ask for an HIV test is ‘Why’? Which of course then makes me feel like I need to justify my reason for asking for a test. I have to go in mentally prepared to have to deal with the assumption that I’ve done something wrong and that’s why I’m asking.”
“If I need an HIV test, I’d be more likely to come into the city to a sexual health clinic because I know I’m not going to have to deal with the questions or the judgement.”
Women should not need to justify their reason for asking for an HIV test. In normalising HIV testing as part of a regular health check-up, we’re reducing the stigma. And anyone, especially women, should not feel stigmatised for being proactive in managing their health.
Addressing the fear
Fear can be a big barrier in asking for an HIV test. An HIV diagnosis can without doubt be life changing. But if you do have HIV, the best thing to do is to know your status and start treatment early.
Things have come a long way in HIV treatment since the 80’s. Women living with HIV today can live long and healthy lives.
The effective antiretroviral treatments available today enable women living with HIV to have the same life expectancy as someone who is HIV negative, have a normal, healthy sex life and even fall pregnant without the fear of passing on HIV to their partner or their baby.
‘I Choose To Get Tested’
NAPWHA have recently launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness of HIV testing amongst the broader community. On the campaign website, NAPWHA says:
“Assumptions about who is ‘at-risk’ in public health narratives have restricted women’s access to HIV testing on an equal basis to men.”
“Just like you go for a dental check-up or go for a regular pap smear – let HIV become just another part of your regular general health routine. Your sexual health is just as important.”
The campaign has 5 key messages:
Getting tests done with your doctor? Ask for an HIV test to be added
HIV doesn’t have to be a barrier to having healthy children
People on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV to their sexual partners
Knowing your HIV status is the first step to a full and healthy life