Why do we need an HIV Awareness Week?

HIV first entered Australia 30 years ago and was a tragedy for the gay community particularly. There was no effective treatment for HIV until the mid-1990s and people who got HIV generally went on to die from AIDS.

In the eighties and nineties many people thought that HIV would be a huge problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, because of the high rates of other health conditions. However, over the years the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with HIV has been similar to the percentage for non-Indigenous people who were born in Australia.

Things are changing. Over the last five years or so we have seen:

  • A slightly higher rate of people being diagnosed with HIV in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community than for non-Indigenous people born in Australia
  • Higher rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women being diagnosed with HIV than non-Indigenous women
  • A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people getting HIV due to sharing drug injecting equipment than for non-Indigenous people
  • Continuing high rates of HIV diagnosis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have sex with men.

It’s important that we act now to reverse these trends. It is most important that we reduce STI rates in our communities, especially in remote communities where rates are very high. People with STIs are at greater risk of getting HIV and we need to prevent a major escalation in HIV rates in these communities.

Harnessing community engagement and educating people about HIV issues is essential for HIV prevention – so, we started ATSIHAW in 2014.

ATSIHAW is now a key annual event for raising our community’s awareness of HIV, for networking and for mobilising community action to bring down HIV rates in our community.

ATSIHAW is also important for influencing policy planning and funding. ATSIHAW helps by:

  • Highlighting trends in the data – such as rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being diagnosed compared to non-Indigenous people, and the proportion of men and women
  • Highlighting key research on issues affecting HIV prevention and treatment in different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly remote communities
  • Drawing attention to what’s needed to improve HIV testing and HIV treatment rates
  • Contributing to policy reform that will make HIV testing and treatment more accessible for our people.