Inclusion. Respect. Equity.

What a year it has been. We have all worked so hard and have many things to be proud of. The transition to Commonwealth funded antiretrovirals for Medicare ineligibles finally happened this year. We joined the Minister for Health on an HIV Task force to progress Australia’s mission towards ending HIV transmissions.  Anti-stigma work including the “Hi” campaign from QPP and NAPWHA’s own “Pass it on” have made a significant impact. Our community presence at the IAS conference in Brisbane was impressive. The list is long. We have all progressed so much this year.

Sadly, all this sits in contrast to what is happening outside our world.

We are certainly living in turbulent times. On the global stage, the three words we observe tonight: Inclusion, respect and equity seem like a pipe dream. It often feels like we are being tossed from one crisis to another and this can take a toll on our emotional health.

Which is why it is important we all give ourselves time to reflect and take stock. To look at ourselves and how we have influenced our own world: the HIV sector and the communities we care about. And World AIDS Day is a good time to do this.

As well as the past year, look at the years behind you and what you have accomplished. If you are living with HIV, congratulate yourself on getting this far. Think of the work you have achieved. The lives you have helped. The life you have built for yourself.

We can also look back over the years and acknowledge our joint victories. The emergence of life-saving therapies in the 1990s. The discovery of U=U in the 2010s. And the simpler, kinder antiretroviral treatments we are lucky enough to have today. Respect. Respect for those who dedicate themselves to the science of treating HIV. Respect for those who gave their lives so we can have ours.

Each year at this time, many of us choose to call up the faces and names of those we have lost. Some were family. Others were old mates or lovers. Some we worked with and admired. Others are famous faces. All left us too soon. Respect.

If we lived with HIV through those years and survived, we may still wonder why? Was it luck or genes or simply good timing that allowed us to carry on? For some of us, this is the simple reason why we continue to work in the sector. To contribute when so many cannot. The feeling of inclusion. Being part of something you care about. And welcoming others who feel the same. Inclusion.

But World AIDS Day is also a time to acknowledge the gaps. To consider those who are not doing so well. People new to Australia who are still automatically refused permanent residency based simply on their HIV positive status. Those living with HIV who are unaware of the fact. Others struggling with new diagnoses. Long term survivors who are faced with a multitude of other conditions that require time and money to manage. Many who are encumbered by the rising cost of living and coping without secure housing. Equity. Equity for all who find themselves living with HIV.

We have come so far and yet we still have far to go.

This World AIDS Day, we have much to think about. Acts of inclusion. Lives to respect. Inequities to address.

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