Once again, March 9 commemorates the National Day of Women Living with HIV in Australia. Initiated by the National Network of Women Living with HIV — otherwise known as the Femfatales — the annual day of awareness was conceived due to concerns that Australian women are too often unaware about the risks and realities of HIV. “We wanted to start conversations so that all women have an opportunity to increase their knowledge and awareness about HIV,” said Femfatales Chair, Kath Leane.
Now into its third year, the national day continues to grow and is observed by local events held all around Australia. The key message this year is Get Tested, Know Your Status to encourage and empower women to take control of their own health by getting tested for HIV.
There are currently around 3,000 women living with HIV in Australia. Yet women are often not considered to be at risk of acquiring HIV. As a result, they are less likely to test for the virus. We need to change this by normalising the testing procedure and thereby reducing the stigma around HIV.
Having an HIV test should be something women include as part of their regular sexual health check-up. 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.
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 in 2017 had a late diagnosis, which means they were likely to have acquired HIV at least four years before the positive result — and had been unaware of their status all that time. Being diagnosed late can result in serious health challenges due to a compromised immune system.
It is hoped that the National Day of Women Living with HIV in Australia will help not only raise the profile of women with HIV, and help reduce stigma, but also — importantly — encourage women to test. "In 2018, Femfatales is advocating the importance of knowing your own HIV status, which requires having an HIV test and taking charge of your sexual health," said Leane. “This is the aim of this special day.”