Friday 9 March is the National Day of Women Living with HIV in Australia. This significant date was created as an annual event by Femfatales, the National Network of Women Living with HIV at NAPWHA – the National Association of People with HIV Australia, with the idea to situate it after International Women’s Day to promote a greater awareness around HIV and the needs of women living with HIV in Australia.
Marking the third National Day of Women Living with HIV in Australia provides an important opportunity to shine a light on women with HIV and the particular issues faced by, and of concern to those women. The event continues to grow and is observed all around Australia, with the key message this year being Get Tested, Know Your Status to encourage and empower women to take control of their own health by getting tested for HIV. The more women test for HIV, the more we will be able to diagnose and treat women appropriately, address the gaps in testing and tailor the experience to suit women.
An estimated 11 percent of all people living with HIV in Australia are unaware of their HIV status, and an estimated 13 percent of those are female. Yet women in Australia are often not considered to be at risk of acquiring HIV, and because of this are less likely to test for HIV. We need to change this, by normalising HIV testing and thereby reducing the stigma around HIV. Having a HIV test should be something women include as part of their regular sexual health check-up.
It is vital that the barriers and gaps in testing for women around HIV are recognised so that women are not left behind. Nearly half of heterosexual people diagnosed with HIV had a late diagnosis, which means they were likely to have acquired HIV at least four years before the diagnosis, and been unaware of their status all that time. Being diagnosed late can result in serious health challenges due to a compromised immune system.
In 2018, Femfatales is advocating the importance of knowing your own HIV status, which requires having a HIV test and taking charge of your sexual health.
The value of this annual awareness day is not only to highlight the important work of Femfatales, but to increase the visibility of all women living with HIV throughout Australia creating an opportunity for women's stories to be told and heard. As a famous author once said, “you can’t empower women without listening to their stories”.
As chair of the National Network of Women living with HIV I find it confronting that in 2018 we have people who still have no idea that in Australia we have women who live with HIV. There are approximately 3,000 of us, representing 10 percent of the HIV-positive population.
Kath Leane, Chair Femfatales