HIV still holds negative stigma among New Zealanders - survey

A new survey reveals Kiwis still have heart-breaking misconceptions around HIV.

Forty-six percent would be uncomfortable to have their child play with another child infected with HIV.

Thirty-eight percent would be worried about having a flatmate with HIV, and 88 percent would have concerns about having a sexual relationship with someone with the virus.

Positive Women national co-ordinator, Jane Bruning, has lived with HIV for 30 years.  Times have changed, but she says the stigma hasn't.

"The biggest barrier for people living with HIV is stigma actually, people can live long lives but there's a whole lot of stigma and we want to try and eradicate that by educating the community about where HIV is now."

Eve van Grafhorst became the face of HIV in the 1980s after being among the first Australian children to be infected, via a blood transfusion.  She was banned from her local pre-school over fears she'd infect other children, but was embraced by New Zealand. 

Despite that, some fears remain even today.

"Here's we are 30 years later, and a lot of those messages still aren't out there," says NZ AIDS Foundation chief executive, Jason Myers. 

"The reality is it is a very small number of ways that HIV is acquired, and children playing with each other in a playground is not one of them."

HIV can only be transmitted via:

  • unprotected sex
  • sharing needles
  • breastfeeding
  • direct blood to blood contact

HIV cannot be transmitted by:

  • kissing
  • sharing a drink
  • sharing a meal
  • skin contact and hugging

Even sex can be safe. Once tested and on treatment, modern antiretroviral medications can make levels of the virus so low, there's effectively no risk of HIV transmission.  And there are always condoms.

There have been incredible advances in information and medicine, but what's lagging behind is our attitude.

Body Positive spokesperson Jono Hendl was diagnosed 12 years ago and says it's the biggest hurdle preventing people from getting tested and treated.

"It's a really horrible thing, it's a really isolating thing," he says. 

"These days with all the biomedical advances, I will live as long as anyone else and I will live a perfectly healthy life, but it's the stigma which is a real drag."

It's time to dispel the outdated myths.