Queensland HIV patients hide in fear of discrimination

Darryn Smith

FEAR of stigma and discrimination is forcing many regional and rural Queenslanders with a serious illness to boycott local health services.

Health experts told APN Newsdesk many HIV-positive locals refused to get their medications from the region's chemists because they were scared of being outed as having the disease.

They also hid their HIV status from local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals for the same reason.

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.

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."

Dr Darren Russell, the State Government medic charged with leading Queensland's response to HIV, said a 24-month region-focused campaign was paying dividends with more people being tested for the disease.

"We've had the biggest HIV awareness campaign that Queensland has ever seen," Dr Russell said.

"Last year, we saw a 36% increase in testing amongst gay men."

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 told APN Newsdesk.

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

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

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.

"People might be concerned because others might hear something," he said.

Topics:  discrimination fear hiv queensland stigma

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