Red Ribbons

From October to December 2012, e-GPS ran the Red Ribbons HIV awareness campaign in Sydney’s inner west. Using a red ribbon knitted from recycled ribbons we engaged the community in a photographic health promotion campaign. Photographing people in the community and uploading the pictures created a social media following and reignited important conversations and lively commentary around HIV.  See our Front Page of the Inner West Courier.

In October 2012, NSW Health released funding to increase HIV/AIDS awareness around the inner west of Sydney in the lead up to World Aids Day 2012. e-GPS were lucky enough to be awarded a grant to develop and implement a social media campaign highlighting the prevalence of HIV in the inner west and south eastern suburbs of Sydney.

The reason these particular areas have been targeted is simple. The Inner West and South Eastern Sydney Local Health Districts are ranked #1 and #2 in NSW for HIV impact.

Evidence suggests that this prevalence reflects a high population of gay men, and men having sex with men (MSM), living in this demographic. In addition, the Inner West and Canterbury area hosts many culturally and linguistically diverse cultures, particularly from East Asian cultures where HIV prevalence is high.

In an age and stage where many folk think they’re invincible and happy to indulge in risky behaviour, it’s easy to see how sexually transmitted infections (STI) and other diseases might increase in prevalence. Since the early days of AIDS awareness in the developed, media driven world of the 1980’s, when the disease struck fear in the hearts of so many young people, and infection rates slowed, HIV is once again on the rise. Has our attitude to STI and HIV/AIDS become desensitised and sanitised?

Many of us know people who live long, normal and active lives with HIV. They look fine, they take meds, HIV doesn’t appear to impact on their daily lives. They have partners, children, careers and they’re positive.

So is there really an HIV threat in Sydney’s Inner West? How does HIV manifest itself in the community? Who is at risk?

According to Australasian Society of HIV Medicine (ASHM) NSW, if you are male, aged 25-39 years, live in the Inner West and engage in MSM, your risk of contracting HIV is far greater than in other areas of NSW. Currently, HIV is being reported at around 80-100 new cases in the Inner West Medicare Local every year.

Other populations at high risk include people who inject drugs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from (or who travel to) high prevalence countries, sex workers, people in custodial settings. That describes a high concentration of people living in a few suburbs in the Sydney/Inner West area.

What about other sexually transmitted infections? Other STIs have a higher rate in Sydney’s Inner West than in other parts of NSW. Chlamydia (over 5000 undetected new cases in 2010), syphilis and herpes are all significantly higher in this district. Also in higher proportion in the Inner West Medicare Local area are people with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

These statistics prompt some serious questions:

  • Are the high numbers diagnosed with HIV and STI’s due to local GPs and health services all encouraging HIV and STI testing?
  • Are the health promotion, disease prevention strategies in place in the Inner West and South Eastern local health districts actually working?

We know what does work:

  • Increased social awareness that strengthens ties between health care service providers and the community
  • Policy and protocols that encourage testing and streamlined services
  • Development and implementation of shared care models
  • Identifying and removing barriers to access and utilisation of hospital and primary health care services
  • Improved, easily accessible testing, streamlined results and integrated disease management plans

And these health services and testing options need to be easily accessible to the community because:

  • The community is, by and large, socially responsible and able to manage their own health
  • It will keep the “HIV is still here” message alive in high risk areas
  • It will keep the conversation going to influence health policy decision makers
  • Complacency around HIV and other STIs has no place in a progressive society

So, there you have it! Our social media campaign addressed some of these issues. Our aim was to raise community awareness by getting out and about in the Inner West and talking to people about HIV and STIs. Our message: HIV is still here. But, there are services available. So get tested! Connecting these services to community and consumers, creating a network with shared care and accessibility as our key objectives is the way forward.

Red Ribbons was a successful campaign, but is quietly hibernating now until the next World AIDS Day. Until then, follow e-GPS on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any questions or stories about HIV, AIDS or STI’s please let us know via social media or for confidential messages, use our Contact form.

And don’t forget, World Aids Day is on 1 December every year!

Inner West Courier: 20 November 2012
Red, White and True