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HIV&AIDS Impact on Australians

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, with AIDS being its most advanced form – the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. This type of sickness is relatively new, having been first discovered in African chimpanzees in the 1930s, allegedly transferring to humans through blood contact. It became a pandemic in the USA during the 1980s, after which it had spread around the world. The total number of HIV/AIDS-infected individuals around the world is estimated to be at circa 38 million as of 2019 (UNAIDS, 2019). There is no cure being present at this date, which makes the disease the most dangerous on the planet, as it has the potential to severely reduce the patient’s quality of life and cause grievous complications resulting from immunodeficiency. The number of HIV/AIDS-positive patients in Australia is currently rated at 27,545 individuals, out of which approximately 89% receive treatment (AFAO, 2017). The purpose of this paper is to describe the impact that HIV/AIDS has on individuals, families, and the community in Australia.

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The first recorded case of HIV/AIDS in Australia happened in 1982, which prompted the country to start doing screenings to discover the real scope of the issue. Early diagnoses were largely associated with drug abuse and intercourse between males, accounting for more than 60% of total cases. Once it was discovered that HIV/AIDS was transferrable through heterosexual contact, the number of recorded cases in Australia exploded. Between 1999 and 2007, it grew from roughly 3,000 to over 10,000, with over 6,000 corresponding deaths related to HIV/AIDS complications (AHSM, 2016). As it stands, there are around 27, 545 individuals in Australia diagnosed with the disease, out of which 86% are males (AFAO, 2017). The average age of the patients is between 32 and 37, which characterizes the height of sexual and recreational activity (AHSM, 2016).

The predominant causes of HIV/AIDS transmission in Australia remain the same as before – over 67% of all transmitted cases come either from unprotected homosexual contact or from intercourse involving intravenous drugs. Another vulnerable population includes female sex workers. Heterosexual partners constitute about 27% of the afflicted (AHSM, 2016). Recent cases of infection have seen a rising prominence of that particular subgroup over homosexuals, sex workers, and drug addicts. The epidemiology of the disease tends to revolve around major city centers, such as New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. Nevertheless, with Australia’s total population estimated at being over 24.6 million, the propensity for HIV/AIDS remains very low (Holt, 2017). The likelihood of transmission through vertical exposure remains minimal, and the number of cases in recent years did not show as much growth as originally expected, indicating the effectiveness of preventive and educational measures currently implemented among vulnerable populations.

HIV/AIDS imposes severe restrictions and limitations on individuals, including illness, disability, and death (Shah et al., 2016). Thus, they affect not only the person in question but also their families and the surrounding community at large. Families suffer from social and economic pressures to support their family members, provide them with medical assistance, drugs, paying for check-ups, and enduring the difficult periods when other diseases attack the already vulnerable immune system. The individuals themselves lose the ability to fully utilize their employment potential, as all work associated with increased chances of contracting a disease is rendered dangerous to them. Local communities, businesses, and social services become burdened with caring for the individual and providing the means for their functionality. The economic costs of HIV and its effects in various sectors of the economy divert resources that could be otherwise spent on strategic development (Shah et al., 2016). HIV and AIDS bring additional burden to the already impoverished communities and have the potential for spreading the misery even further, should these conditions go unchecked by the local healthcare institutions.

The social effects of being exposed as an HIV/AIDS carrier vary from one country to another, but in all cases brings a negative connotation and stigma. Although the Australian Discrimination Act of 1992 prohibits any sort of discrimination based on an individual’s HIV status, people whose status is exposed still suffer a plethora of difficulties acquiring certain jobs and developing relationships with individuals (Sowell & Phillips, 2016). The law requires all HIV/AIDS patients to inform their partners about their condition before initiating sexual contact, whether protected or not, which only exacerbates the stigma. Although from a legalistic and moral point of view, such precautions are perfectly justified, it also forces many individuals with immunodeficiency to hide the nature of their disease, leading to reckless and potentially dangerous sexual behavior. Some of the new cases of HIV/AIDS, particularly among heterosexual partners, could be attributed to the desire to conceal/avoid the social stigma (Sowell & Phillips, 2016).

Since HIV/AIDS is an infection that targets the body’s immune system, its symptoms are typically presented through greater vulnerability to other types of diseases, such as influenza. The primary symptoms of HIV/AIDS include fever, rashes, chills, profuse sweating, sore muscles, sore throat, general fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers (Bottone & Bartlett, 2017). All of these signs are notoriously similar to flu, which makes detection of the disease harder since in the majority of the cases the afflicted individuals do not realize the cause of these changes. Some individuals tend to not experience any symptoms at all, continuing their lives as carriers of HIV without suffering many of the negative effects of the disease. In the majority of the cases, HIV/AIDS is detected during a specific HIV test, which is sometimes required to obtain certain medical documents. Some individuals pass HIV/AIDS tests of their own volition when there had been a risk of exposure through unprotected contact or intravenous injection.

Once HIV passes the latency stage and becomes AIDS, the symptoms change dramatically and become more clinically pronounced. The primary symptoms of the disease include rapid weight loss, frequent fevers, and profuse sweating at night (Grimes, Hardwicke, Grimes, & DeGarmo, 2016). Energy levels remain low constantly, making it very hard to maintain an active way of life. AIDS causes swellings in the lymph nodes around the neck, groin, and armpits. Diarrhea is often accompanied by genital, oral, and intestinal sores. Light viral diseases such as the common cold could lead to severe cases of pneumonia. Physical signs of the disease include patches of red and purple color found under the skin around or inside of the mouth, nose, and eyelids. Psychological symptoms of AIDS include depression, memory loss, and other neurological disorders (Nanni, Caruso, Mitchell, Meggiolaro, & Grassi, 2015). Although at this stage it is possible to diagnose AIDS by symptoms alone, only a specialized HIV/AIDS blood test could determine the presence of the virus for certain.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) (n.d.) determines the impact of a disease on a particular community, nation, and the international community at large utilizing 9 determinants of health, which affect the overall health and wellness. HIV/AIDS-related to these determinants in the following ways (WHO, n.d.):

  • Income and social status: in Australia, income and social status play a direct role in determining the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS. Individuals from poor families have a higher risk of contracting the infection through careless and negligent behavior.
  • Education: Although the information about HIV/AIDS is available on the Internet, and schools have dedicated attention to the subject of sexual education, the awareness about how the disease is spread is notoriously lower in the regions with lower standards of education and care. In Australia, these include New South Wales, Queensland, certain districts of Victoria, as well as aboriginal zones.
  • Physical environment: Since HIV/AIDS is not a viral infection, the condition of the physical environment does not have a direct influence on its spreading patterns. However, the poor state of the environment could be attributed to poverty.
  • Social support: Australia has a well-developed net of social support services for individuals with HIV/AIDS, including sexual health clinics, general practitioner services, specialist HIV services, and aboriginal-controlled health services. Confidentiality hotlines are also available for anonymous consultation. However, the majority of these centers tend to be situated in major cities and settlements, with rural communities being left relatively neglected. At the same time, the relatively low percentage of people with HIV/AIDS scattered across Australia prevents having dedicated support in every locality.
  • Genetics: HIV/AIDS can be passed on from mother to child.
  • Health services: The effectiveness of HIV/AIDS treatment depends on the familiarity and training received by the medical specialists. In Australia, over 95% of all hospitals and primary care centers have some degree of HIV/AIDS capacity.
  • Gender: Although the disease does not discriminate between men and women, over 86% of all infected individuals tend to be men.
  • Individual characteristics: Personal lifestyles and behaviors can either increase or eliminate the risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.
  • Policymaking: Australia makes an emphasis on further reducing the numbers of new HIV/AIDS cases by promoting safety among children, sex workers, and individuals deemed at high risk (Persson, Newman, & Miller, 2017). At the same time, some of the policies about disclosure potentially increase the social stigma regarding HIV/AIDS.

As it is possible to see, in the scope of Australia, HIV/AIDS covers almost all of the 9 determinants of health to some degree or measure. The only reason why the disease remains on a relatively low level when compared to other well-developed countries, such as the US, revolves around the relatively widespread population across the Australian continent, while also combined with prudent social services, educational campaigns, and sexual workers policies. These measures helped reduce the percentage of incidents since 2009, and helped hold it at a relatively stable level for the past 10 years (Bolsewicz, Vallely, Debattista, Whittaker, & Fitzgerald, 2015).

Since HIV/AIDS is a disease transmitted through blood and sexual contact, educational interventions have an increased likelihood of success, as they enable individuals at risk to prevent exposure to the infection by following certain rules and safety regulations. The primary role of the nurse, thus, is to inform the population of the surrounding community about what HIV/AIDS is, how does it work, and what measures can be taken to minimize the risk of exposure and infection (Basta, Stambaugh, & Fisher, 2015). The most basic recommendations could include the use of safe sex practices, avoiding intravenous drugs, sterilizing any cuts and wounds that may come into contact with another person, and practicing vigilance (Roux et al., 2016). The second role of the nurse is to assist individuals already infected with HIV/AIDS. Many people are not aware of the supporting network available to them. Without proper medical support, patients could engage in risky behaviors, spread the disease, and exacerbate the symptoms already present.

A nurse should conduct an informational campaign for HIV/AIDS positives, listing the number of locations, the necessary medicaments, and where to buy them, as well as the telephones of anonymous hotlines available for consultation (Zablotska et al., 2018). Finally, a nurse must engage in advocacy to protect HIV/AIDS patients, help reduce the social stigma surrounding them, and allow them to lead healthy and fulfilling life. This could be achieved through cooperation with other nurses through the Australian Nursing Association, local and regional legislative bodies, and dedicated non-profit organizations (Sunguya, Munisamy, Pongpanich, Yasuoka, & Jimba, 2016). These efforts could serve as a foundation for a combined intervention to improve the lives of Australian people by protecting them from the disease while making the lives of those afflicted easier, safer, and more worthwhile. While the levels of infection remain relatively low, it does not mean that the Australian healthcare system should cease in its efforts to further reduce the number of future HIV/AIDS cases in the country.

To summarize, HIV/AIDS remains a potential danger to many Australians, if left unchecked. Interventional, supportive, and educational solutions help keep the spreading of the disease in check. Nurses play a pivotal role in all of these efforts, being on the front lines of educational, treatment, and advocacy efforts across the country.

References

AFAO. (2017). HIV statistics. Web.

Basta, T. B., Stambaugh, T., & Fisher, C. B. (2015). Efficacy of an educational intervention to increase consent for HIV testing in rural Appalachia. Ethics & Behavior, 25(2), 129-145.

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Bolsewicz, K., Vallely, A., Debattista, J., Whittaker, A., & Fitzgerald, L. (2015). Factors impacting HIV testing: A review–perspectives from Australia, Canada, and the UK. AIDS Care, 27(5), 570-580.

Bottone, P. D., & Bartlett, A. H. (2017). Diagnosing Acute HIV Infection. Pediatric Annals, 46(2), e47-e50.

Grimes, R. M., Hardwicke, R. L., Grimes, D. E., & DeGarmo, D. S. (2016). When to consider acute HIV infection in the differential diagnosis. The Nurse Practitioner, 41(1), 1-5.

Holt, M. (2017). Progress and challenges in ending HIV and AIDS in Australia. AIDS and Behavior, 21(2), 331-334.

Nanni, M. G., Caruso, R., Mitchell, A. J., Meggiolaro, E., & Grassi, L. (2015). Depression in HIV infected patients: A review. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(1), 530.

Persson, A., Newman, C. E., & Miller, A. (2017). Caring for ‘underground’kids: Qualitative interviews with clinicians about key issues for young people growing up with perinatally acquired HIV in Australia. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 22(1), 1-15.

Roux, P., Le Gall, J. M., Debrus, M., Protopopescu, C., Ndiaye, K., Demoulin, B., & Suzan‐Monti, M. (2016). Innovative community‐based educational face‐to‐face intervention to reduce HIV, hepatitis C virus and other blood‐borne infectious risks in difficult‐to‐reach people who inject drugs: Results from the ANRS–AERLI intervention study. Addiction, 111(1), 94-106.

Shah, M., Perry, A., Risher, K., Kapoor, S., Grey, J., Sharma, A.,… & Dowdy, D. W. (2016). Effect of the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy targets for improved HIV care engagement: a modelling study. The Lancet HIV, 3(3), e140-e146.

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Sowell, R. L., & Phillips, K. D. (2016). HIV/AIDS, stigma, and disclosure: A need for a human rights perspective. Global Health Care: Issues and Policies, 5(1), 261-286.

Sunguya, B. F., Munisamy, M., Pongpanich, S., Yasuoka, J., & Jimba, M. (2016). Ability of HIV advocacy to modify behavioral norms and treatment impact: a systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 106(8), e1-e8.

UNAIDS. (2019). Global HIV and AIDS statistics – 2019 fact sheet. Web

World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). The determinants of health. Web

Zablotska, I. B., Selvey, C., Guy, R., Price, K., Holden, J., Schmidt, H. M.,… & Cooper, D. A. (2018). Expanded HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) implementation in communities in New South Wales, Australia (EPIC-NSW): design of an open label, single arm implementation trial. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 210.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 15). HIV&AIDS Impact on Australians. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/hiv-and-ampaids-impact-on-australians/

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