HIV fear drives health boycott

FEAR of stigma and discrimination is forcing HIV-positive Ipswich residents to boycott their local health services.

A number of health experts told APN Newsdesk many people with HIV are so worried about being outed as having the disease they also hide their HIV status from doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

In July, the Federal Government made it possible for HIV-positive people to collect their antiretroviral therapy medications from community pharmacies.

Before that, the scripts could only be filled by hospital chemists.

Infectious disease specialist Dr Andrew Redmond said community misconceptions about the disease were fuelling unwarranted distrust of people with HIV.

Dr Redmond said our region's rural residents were particularly vulnerable.

"There's quite a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about how HIV is transmitted. When people have this confusion that's an environment in which stigma can really thrive," said the Brisbane Sexual Health physician, who treats Ipswich patients.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia spokesman Greg Turnbull said privacy was in the forefront of PGA members' minds.

"The guild is aware of understandable concerns about privacy associated with these medicines," Mr Turnbull said.

"People should be aware that they can talk to their pharmacist confidentially and ask for a conversation to take place in a private space where appropriate."

Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick called on the community to treat people with HIV with respect.

"It is vitally important people with HIV feel safe, respected and accepted in our communities," Mr Dick said.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said she was "disappointed and concerned" that HIV-positive rural residents did not feel comfortable.

"Everyone, no matter where they are in the country, should feel comfortable to visit their local health professional without stigma or discrimination," Ms Ley said.

"If any form of discrimination is occurring it is completely unacceptable and I would be incredibly disappointed.

"If people think they are being discriminated against then I would encourage them to report it."

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director Rob Lake said he was not surprised people were scared.

"One of the things we know is that there are people who will go to another town to see a GP, particularly in smaller towns," Mr Lake said.

"In terms of going to see their local pharmacy, it will be a tough call.

"People might be concerned because others might hear something.

"Most people aren't open about their HIV status because they don't feel comfortable about it and they are looking for pretty private relationships with their doctors and pharmacies."


HIV notifications across West Moreton:

  • 2010 - 7
  • 2011 - 9
  • 2012 - 5
  • 2013 - 12
  • 2014 - 5

Source: Queensland Department of Health.