Sunday 1 December is World Aids Day and the theme of this year’s observance is that communities can make a difference by fighting to end the epidemic.

One way for community-led organisations to act is to promote access to stigma-free health and social services and to press to change laws that discriminate.

The United Nations estimates that more than 38 million people around the world are living with HIV.

MidCentral DHB Medical Lead Sexual Health Dr Anne Robertson said: “The biggest issue faced by New Zealanders living with HIV is not poor health or access to treatment, but the stigma and discrimination that surrounds the virus.”

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a disease that compromises the immune system. If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious stage when it is considered as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

There are currently 3400 people living with HIV in New Zealand, and unprotected sex accounts for most of these infections. It’s estimated that there could be as many as 500 Kiwis living with HIV who have no idea they are infected.

Dr Robertson said: “A person who has recently contracted HIV and is unaware, risks transmitting the virus to others. If you have had unprotected sex, you can get a free and easy HIV test through MidCentral Sexual Health Service on 0800 808 602.

“You can also get tested through your GP, or at YOSS if you are under 24.”

MidCentral DHB has an information table at the Palmerston North Hospital’s main entrance today between 11am and 2pm and staff will be there to answer questions about HIV.

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