A MELBOURNE group of HIV activists are planning to walk 250 kilometres around the south of Australia to tackle HIV stigma and dispel myths about people living with the virus.

The recently formed HIVSTERS Victoria will walk for eight days in November, stopping in rural towns each night to speak to the local community about HIV.

HIVSTERS founder Ruan Uys said he was inspired to take action after speaking at this year’s AIDS Candlelight Memorial.

“I had an opportunity to speak with members of the public and the main thing that seemed to stick out was people’s surprise at what I had accomplished,” he told the Star Observer.

“Many still think that people living with HIV are less capable than those who are not.

“But I recognise this myth is based solidly on a lack of education and so I began to think of ways to educate the public in order to dispel these.”

The trek was inspired by the famous Camino de Santiago and will run from Portland in Victoria to Penola in South Australia.

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Ruan Uys (front right) with a few of his fellow HIVSTERS.

Uys and his group have engaged with local community organisations along the planned route and have begun training with fortnightly sessions of up to 20 kilometres being covered.

During the walk in November the group will walk for ten hours each day, with the distances fluctuating between 18 and 28 kilometres.

Uys said at the end of the day, lack of awareness and education are what lead to HIV-positive people being discriminated against.

“I was working at a job once and after disclosing my status, they tried to get rid of me,” he said.

“I went from being the golden boy to always being on a performance plan, and receiving harsh emails from my boss.

“I want people to know that it’s not a ‘thing’ anymore and we need to move on.

“We’re here and we’re everywhere – we’re doctors, nurses, waiters, hairdressers.”

The hike will also be filmed as a means to create a mini-documentary of the trip, and regular radio call-ins to Joy 94.9 will be made for progress updates.

HIV-positive Olympian Ji Wallace has already expressed interest in joining the walk for a few of the days, along with gender and sexuality commissioner Rowena Allen.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Uys said.

“Because we’re in a different town every night, people can come and go as they please, but we’ll have ten core walkers that’ll walk every day.”

The HIVSTERS have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the trip that you can donate to online.

 

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