Thursday 11 December 2014

Joint launch highlights HIV issues for migrant and mobile populations

Speakers at the launch.
Mobile and migrant populations are an increasingly prominent proportion of Australia’s HIV epidemic in 2014. 

Surveillance data indicates that people born overseas in 2013 have HIV at double the rate of those who are Australian born. The data also shows an increase of HIV diagnoses acquired overseas among Australian born people over the past decade.

Against this background, two documents were launched in Melbourne on 2 December that make important contributions to the response to HIV for people who travel to or from high prevalence countries: The HIV and Mobility in Australia: Road Map forAction, developed by the Western Australian Centre for Health Promotion Research (WACHPR), the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) and the Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Applied Research and Evaluation Network (SiREN); and AFAO’s HIV and Stigma: A Guide for Religious Leaders.  

Graham Brown, one of the authors of HIV and Mobility in Australia: Road Map for Action, described how originally the document was intended to be a briefing paper focussing on research gaps regarding HIV, migration and mobility, but evolved into a broader discussion paper due to the breadth and complexity of the issues. HIV and Stigma: A Guide for Religious Leaders is one example of the kind of concrete actions required that are proposed in the discussion paper, he said.

Susie Malhotra of Living Positive Victoria launched  HIV and Stigma: A Guide for Religious Leaders. She thanked AFAO for the open and consultative development process, leading to a very valuable resource which will enhance the capacity of faith leaders and organisations to support people with HIV and address stigma in their communities.

This resource was developed in recognition of the fact that religion and HIV intersect in many ways. Religious beliefs shape individuals’ values and behaviours  and this is particularly so among some migrant communities. They inform how people judge their own and others’ actions, how they treat others, and how they cope at times of crisis or grief. 

Dr Samuel Muchoki, from the Centre for Ethnicity and Health (CEH), which hosted the launch, welcomed the Guide, saying that it will complement CEH’s tip-sheet for spiritualleaders

He also commented that the Road Map’s strategic approach makes it a useful tool for the Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS – a CEH program), particularly in providing the evidence base to support the organisation’s engagement with migrant and refugee communities.

Dr Muchoki captured the mood of the event in his comment that the launch of the two documents highlighted that, ‘if Australia is to achieve the 2020 UNAIDS ’90-90-90’ targets … mobile population groups, including migrants and refugees from high HIV prevalence countries, must not be “left behind” in the national and state implementation plans for HIV prevention, testing, treatment, care and support’.

Dr Chris Lemoh speaking about the challenges of HIV. 
Infectious diseases physician and member of the Victorian African Health Action Network (VAHAN) Dr Chris Lemoh described eloquently the complexities involved in addressing HIV among mobile and migrant populations.

The intimate nature of the relationships at the heart of HIV – those of lovers, mother and child, doctor and physician – means that the response to HIV has particular challenges, he said. However, he argued that it is on the basis of these same deep connections that an effective response to HIV must be built. 

The final speaker shared his experience as an HIV-positive migrant. He described the challenges of getting on antiretroviral medications, while at the same time being subject to pressure to use traditional healing approaches, including fasting.

He spoke of the profound stigma he experienced after disclosing his status to colleagues in his home-country, which resulted in him losing his job, and from his wife’s family, which has resulted in him being prevented from seeing his new-born child.

His strength and resolve were impressive, and he remained optimistic about things changing for the better. This personal story was a fitting close to a morning that confirmed the need for sustained action, research and advocacy on issues that affect mobile populations.

Video Links

Some videos of the event are available here.

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