It's a standard blood test that screens for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV which can lead to AIDS if not treated.

In 1993 it was a test just like this that changed Marama Mullen's life forever, when it revealed she was HIV positive.

"I thought it was the end of my life," Mullen said. "I thought that I'd never find love, never have children.

"They said you won't have children... so that was more devastating in a way. I always dreamed of a fantasy home, children, partner and a white picket fence. So to me that was destroyed instantly and I had no idea what I was going to do."

Mullen was just 22 years old but 25 years later a lot has changed. Her HIV is controlled by daily medication which keeps her alive, and means the virus has not been detected in her blood for the last 18 years.


But the same progress hasn't been made with the stigma associated with the disease.

Caroline Wharry is an HIV specialist at Hamilton's sexual health clinic and says even today it is unfortunate that she has to warn newly diagnosed clients to be careful who they tell.

"I would love tell my new patients to go home and tell everyone you've got HIV," Wharry said. "And that people would treat you no different, give you a hug like they would if you had cancer. Unfortunately we're not there yet, but any education out there about HIV has got to be a good thing."

Her message is that HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be - if those who are diagnosed have access to medication.

"It has a huge ripple effect. You teach ten people in a room, they think 'oh HIV is not what it used to be' because if people are not re-educated, they never have any idea."

A recent Colmar Brunton survey shows there's still a long way to go to 're-educate' New Zealanders about HIV.

Commisioned by the AIDS Foundation, the survey shows 38% of Kiwis would be uncomfortable having an HIV positive flatmate, 46% would be uncomfortable letting their child play with an HIV positive child, and 88% would be uncomfortable having a sexual relationship with someone with a positive status.

A global movement called U=U aims to change that with the message that anyone on treatment for more than six months can't transmit the virus.


Marama Mullen's story has a happy ending.

"Yes, I did end up having my dream children, and living the life I wanted to live. But now because I live with the virus they live with it as well, even though they are HIV negative they live with the stigma and discrimination that comes with it."

The continuing lack of awareness about HIV is why Mullen keeps pushing for change.

"Yes, I'm the accidental HIV activist.," she said. "I have a lot of passion around people suffering injustice and human rights, and we see that with HIV people - regardless of sexuality, of gender."

Women tend not to be seen as a risk for HIV because it is known as a gay man's disease. But Mullen says women are at risk, especially indigenous women.

"In New Zealand, women may present in the hospital with AIDS-related illnesses but because there's not enough knowledge about HIV they get misdiagnosed. Children have been misdiagnosed and that's a concern too.

"We still have deaths. There not enough knowledge in the general practice of our GPs and doctors on what could be an AIDS-related illness or an HIV symptom."

Three thousand five hundred women and men are estimated to be living with HIV in Aotearoa. Around 500 of those may not even know they carry the virus.

Knowing your HIV status is one of the messages for World Aids Day today, 1 December.

For Mullen, it's a day to remember those who werent diagnosed in time.

"It's all about remembering the ones that have died. How do we honour the people who have died of AIDS?"

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