The head of an organisation which supports HIV+ gay men says the response to a HIV+ child at a Whangarei daycare is not uncommon, and shows while science and medication have revolutionised the treatment and care of people living with HIV, unfortunately social stigma and discrimination have remained much as where they were 20 years ago.
“It just makes me so angry and sad,” says CEO of Auckland-based Body Positive Bruce Kilmister, of the news a young boy has been kicked out of a childcare centre in Whangarei after his family revealed he is living with HIV.
Kilmister says the recent visit by former Prime Minister Helen Clark and the head of UNAIDS Michelle Sidibe left a clear message behind, that ‘We must not fail to address the underlying drivers of HIV’.
“I took that to mean the stigma and discrimination around HIV,” Kilmister says. “This is almost the sole reason why 20 plus percent of gay men living with HIV do not know their HIV status. They are afraid to test because they see themselves subjected to the stigma and discrimination that is alive and well in our community today.”
Kilmister says he is constantly reminded of this when HIV+ visitors from overseas tell him they can’t believe the stigma they have experienced whilst visiting New Zealand.
“People living with HIV here in New Zealand are very reluctant to reveal their HIV status for fear of an unwelcome response. This issue still remains largely unaddressed in our community and the recent response to the very small child at daycare in Whangarei is not an uncommon response. “
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation is standing up for the child, and Executive Director Shaun Robinson says the organisation has had extensive involvement with the family of the boy, his childcare centre and doctors and has provided advice about HIV and the risk of infection.
“The reaction of the childcare centre management isn’t due to a lack of information or awareness or education. The NZAF, community members and doctors have all spoken to them on the phone, given them information and materials and been to hui with them. They’ve been very well informed but the sad fact is, the management team don’t want to know that there is no risk whatsoever to the other children, they’d prefer to persecute this child and create hysteria in the community.”
Robinson says the reason that the boy’s family initially failed to notify the childcare centre about his HIV status may be due to stigma and discrimination. “Discrimination is the single biggest issue facing New Zealander’s living with HIV today. We’d like people to be able to disclose that their child has HIV when they enrol at a childcare centre but it’s a sad fact that many people don’t feel safe or supported enough to do that because they fear that their child will be ostracised, picked on or expelled – all the things that have happened to this family in Whangarei.”
HIV cannot be transmitted through children playing together, sharing toys, toilets or eating utensils, touching each other or hugging. The NZAF says anti-retrovirals have reduced the level of HIV in the boy’s blood to a level where it is undetectable when tested and have greatly reduced any possibility of him being able to transmit HIV to other people, even in a situation involving blood.