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Back to normal after World AIDS Day

Sun 2 Dec 2012 In: HIV View at Wayback View at NDHA

World AIDS Day was yesterday. It's come and gone. The inspirational speeches are merely echoes. The collection boxes have stopped rattling and the press releases have played out. We can get back to normal. Sadly, for more and more gay and bi men normal is pretty rugged. Advances in medical science mean few gay and bi men, who comprise the vast bulk of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New Zealand, are dying from their infection. They're just living longer. And, ironically, getting sicker. A few years of HIV, however well-controlled, quietly ravaging the system and the flood of powerful anti-HIV medications, however simply delivered in a few pills a day, are beginning to take a terrible toll. Kidneys are failing leading to dialysis and end-stage kidney disease. Insulating fat is disappearing from nerve endings exposing them to pressure so that, for example, walking and even standing become acutely painful and in the end impossible. Cholesterol levels are rising alarmingly leading to coronary complications. Mental processes are getting more vagu as AIDS dementia appears in otherwise youngish men. Even the teeth get in on the act, weakening and disintegrating. And there's much more distressing stuff in that vein. So our brothers with HIV have to cut back on working hours or change to less stressful but less well-paid jobs. Then the medical and dental bills start to soar. With their HIV under control, just, they are relegated to 6-monthly or even less frequent consultations with an HIV specialist, meaning they have to rely more on paid visits to a GP to deal with their HIV-related ailments. Just keeping body and soul together becomes an even greater struggle, one that they will live with for the rest of their lives. Body Positive, the peer support organisation which primarily looks after the interests of gay and bi men struggling with the effects of HIV, ran through its entire apportionment of the proceeds from last year's World AIDS Day proceeds in just two months of handing out meagre amounts to the increasing queue of gay and bi men with HIV needing their help. "Emotionally, mentally, physically, every part of their being is affected," says BP's general manager Bruce Kilmister.A vicious cycle sets in. "One of the biggest contributors today to bad health is lack of financial resources. Often problems that could have been dealt with at primary health care, if the frequent visits to GPs could be afforded, mushroom out of control and cost even more to get sorted out," Kilmister observes. Hundreds of gay and bi men come through Body Positive's doors every year needing support for their health. "They are nearly always uncomfortable asking for help, almost ashamed, which they needn't be," says Kilmister. From outside Aucklan d they seek help through the Body Positive website. The small team at Body Positive's premises near Auckland's Karangahape Road tries to make such approaches as easy as possible, knowing these men are often in serious trouble financially as well as medically. "The most common financial need is to pay for medical support," says Kilmister. "It only takes a sudden crisis, a call to an ambulance to get to AandE and the bill arrives from St. John and they haven't got the money to pay up. They can't even afford to go to the doctor let alone relax and focus on maintaining their health." "A high proportion of people living with HIV have to rely on the sickness benefit. "Being on a benefit means you're counting your last dollars and cents," says Kilmister. "It's a different life from what most people know, you're barely above the poverty level." When you're living at that diminished level finding, say, $95 for Pneumovax to help your weakened body fight off deadly pneumonia infections is all but impossible. Prescription fees just went up and are about to rise again. The drain on meagre finances is unrelenting and always increasing. For far too many of our gay and bi brothers with HIV this is the normal they face today. And every day for the rest of their lives. This is why our gay brothers with HIV need your on-going help. Not just once a year on on World AIDS Day but today and tomorrow and any day you think you can afford a few spare dollars to contribute so that those who come to Body Positive and the Wellness Fund needing help three months, six months, a year from now won't find the cupboard is already bare. It's too late to drop a few coins in a bucket but you can make a donation any time by clicking on the link below. Jay Bennie - 2nd December 2012

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 2nd December 2012 - 3:22pm

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