Editorial: Clear advice critical in fight against HIV

Charlie Tredway spoke in support of unprotected sex, and said he always informed partners of his status. Photo / Supplied
Charlie Tredway spoke in support of unprotected sex, and said he always informed partners of his status. Photo / Supplied

Preparations are being made for the annual Pride Parade this evening, an event fixed on the Auckland calendar.

The show, which draws thousands, is always a lively, colourful affair, tinged with politics and controversy. It gives participants access to the usually busy Ponsonby Rd, and is an occasion to reflect on the place of the gay community in New Zealand society.

Three decades ago, before the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, gay New Zealanders had a very different status.

The law change meant homosexual men could have partners without fear of prosecution. Protections for gay men were enhanced in 1993 when the Human Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Other legislative barriers which have tumbled in the last 30 years include the Civil Union Act and finally, in 2013, a law change which allowed same-sex couples to marry.

In keeping with New Zealand's progressive achievements in this field, the gay marriage reform made the country just the 13th country in the world - and the first in the Asia-Pacific region - to permit gays to tie the knot.

These transformative measures have not been easy. Prejudices remain, stigmas survive and entrenched attitudes persist.

Not every gay New Zealander feels comfortable out of the closet. Overall though, significant social change has occurred, encourage by open and informed debate, especially around the subject of safe sex.

In the light of these reforms, it is disappointing that the new Mr Gay New Zealand, Charlie Tredway, has sent a message which threatens to undermine the clear and consistent advice that very best health experts in New Zealand and overseas have conveyed over a number of years.

This matters because of the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, which impose burdens on individuals and costs on the health system.

Tredway, who is has HIV and works as a community outreach staffer for the NZ Aids Foundation, spoke in support of unprotected sex, and said he always informed partners of his status.

The foundation defended his remarks, arguing that advances in HIV-prevention had reached the point where individuals with the virus could be "virtually non-infectious."

This does not square with the constant advice of the Ministry of Health, or of medical experts in the field overseas, which is to practise safe sex.

The Health Ministry says the key message is that HIV/AIDS is still here and there is no cure, but it is preventable.

Every year, dozens of new cases are reported. The most recent data showed that 224 people (205 men, 18 women, and one transgender woman) were first known to be infected with HIV in New Zealand in 2015.

Of these, 153 were men who have sex with men. Pharmac figures show there were 2059 adults (1699 men, 360 women) and 23 children receiving subsidised antiretro-viral therapy (ART) at end of June 2015.

By law, New Zealanders have a legal duty not to endanger the life, health or safety of others. In law this means that HIV infected people must take 'reasonable steps' to avoid transmitting HIV.

The Dunedin-based AIDS Epidemiology Group has been responsible for national surveillance of AIDS and HIV infection since 1989.

Its most recent advice stated that HIV prevention efforts needed to focus on gay men, encourage condom use, and regular testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, which increase the risk of acquisition and transmission of HIV.

This is the unambiguous message that ought to resound long after the noise of tonight's parade passes.

- NZ Herald

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