People living with HIV will be targeted in a new advertising blitz to get them to speak to their doctors about going on treatment, whether they are newly diagnosed or have had the virus for
years.

Advertisements will run in national print media and on billboards in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in what’s set to be the biggest national campaign of its kind.

Driven by the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), the campaign is backed by recent research and a change in US HIV treatment guidelines last month which now recommend treatment for all people with HIV to improve patients’ health as well as to drive down transmission rates.

NAPWA president Robert Mitchell said the campaign is about getting HIV-positive people to start a conversation with their doctors about treatment options.

“People need the latest information to make fully informed decisions about managing their health,” Mitchell said.

Australia’s leading HIV scientist Professor David Cooper supports the campaign.

“It is very important that people with HIV are well informed about the benefits of being on HIV treatment — both the individual benefit for the patient and the secondary benefit that treatment has in helping reduce transmission of HIV to others,” Cooper said.

“Even today, with the well tolerated and potent HIV treatments available, we still see people presenting at hospitals with very damaged immune systems and serious HIV-related health issues, despite the strong evidence that early treatment is beneficial.”

NAPWA special representative Bill Whittaker said he believes many people still have an outdated view of HIV treatment.

“I think a lot of people are still thinking it’s fine to wait a number of years until your immune system declines to a certain point and then that’s the time to start treatment,” he told the Star Observer.

Whittaker also called on the federal Government to address some of the issues that prevent patients going on treatment.

“We’ve got to reduce some of the costs around treatments. There are dispensing fees and co-payments costs and that can force people [to choose] between paying the rent or putting food on the table, and buying their drugs,” he said.

Albion St Centre director of clinical services Dr Don Smith said while increasing research shows the benefits of early treatment, doctors won’t force patients to go on treatment.

“What I tell many of my patients, even if they’re not ready to go on treatment and not convinced it’s good for them, actually just knowing what’s going on gives an opportunity to discuss that evidence and discuss what triggers would need to occur before they would consider start[ing] treatment.”

Businesswoman and former National Advisory Committee on AIDS chairwoman Ita Buttrose will launch the advertising campaign in Sydney this Friday, May 4.

Community forums will also be held across Australia to inform the community of the benefits of early treatment.

INFO: www.napwa.org.au

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