HIV: An International Student Experience.

“I just knew I was lucky because I knew I wasn’t going to die.” 

Carlos Araya was having his regular HIV test last June when he was diagnosed with HIV. 

“it felt like the movies,” Carlos said, “It was like a shock and everything was in slow motion.”

Though sad and conflicted, he didn’t lament for long. He’s referred to a counsellor and started getting treatment from his doctor. 

It may seem daunting to hear that you’re positive, but Carlos assured me that it’s not a death sentence. He was grateful that he knew about HIV treatment. 

He remembered what his doctor told him, “he told me that I was going to be fine… [He] talked to me about treatment to reinforce the idea that I’m going to be okay.” 

“I just knew I was lucky because I knew I wasn’t going to die.” 

Though Carlos wished that he’d known about Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) sooner; a four-week treatment that you can access from any emergency department after being exposed to HIV. You can take this within three days of your encounter. He would have taken it otherwise. 

He only knew about Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventative medication that you take everyday as a pill from banters with his friends and advertisements in apps like Grindr. 

Carlos is among the increasing numbers of new HIV diagnoses within the migrant community in Australia. A study published earlier this year found that almost half of the people who are not born in Australia only find out about their status at a later date. A contrast to the 34% of Australian-born diagnoses.  

This is caused by challenges such as cultural and HIV stigma, language barrier, financial cost and lack of HIV community. Carlos also had a hard time finding information about HIV treatments in Spanish. 

“When I first came to Australia, I didn’t know about PEP. It was hard to find any information in Spanish, which made it hard [to share] for my friends to understand. Most of my friends in Chile don’t know about it too,” said Carlos. 

“It was hard to pay attention when you are feeling nervous and someone’s speaking to you in another language, so I started recording when I was talking to my doctor,” He added. 

But he said that he’s since found more information in Spanish. 

When Carlos met his counsellor, he was referred to Living Positive Victoria (LPV) a non-profit organisation that connects, represents and advocates people who are living with HIV. Through the peer navigation program, he met a full community of people who’s going through his journey. 

It is scientifically proven, that for someone who’s living with HIV on effective treatment and regular checks with their doctor,  reaching an undetectable status means that the virus in their blood is so low that the virus won’t be transmitted to another person. 

Emil Canita, LPV’s Community Engagement Officer said that HIV treatment has come a long way since 1987. 

“What was once a cocktail of different drugs that caused a number of different side-effects for people living with HIV, HIV treatment has now been reduced to mostly one or two pills, with little to no side-effects,” she said. 

One of LPV’s goals is to dismantle the stigma in HIV and empower confidence in people living with HIV (PLHIV) that they are capable of having a normal and healthy life. They do this by spreading the message of U=U: Undetectable = Untransmissable. 

It is scientifically proven, that for someone who’s living with HIV on effective treatment and regular checks with their doctor,  reaching an undetectable status means that the virus in their blood is so low that the virus won’t be transmitted to another person. 

“Personally, I think the U=U message is important because it symbolizes a breakthrough in HIV treatment and prevention… it also emancipates PLHIV from stigma and allows us to have relationships of all kinds easily and without fear. U=U makes it even more possible for PLHIV to live healthy and fulfilling lives,” Emil stressed. 

Now Carlos is undetectable, two months after he was diagnosed. 

Like him, most people living with HIV in Australia can achieve an undetectable viral load within three to six months of early treatment. 

He’s actively receiving treatment through the Compassionate Access Scheme which provides HIV treatments for free. Some people can access their Medicare and some use their insurance provider. 

“When I went to the sexual health centre, I didn’t have to use my insurance. The doctors at the clinic said that they’ll do all the paper for me and now I’m getting all my treatment for free,” Carlos remembered. 

With the LPV community, Carlos is grateful for the support from his family and friends. 

“The day after my diagnosis, I was already connected to a counsellor, and after that, I told my roommates and my friends about it. I knew how important it is to have a good support network,” he said.  

He wants to share his story so that everyone would be more open to speak up and eventually remove the connection that HIV means death. 

At the start, Carlos visited Australia to travel and explore the country. He’s enjoyed his time here, so now he’s applying for a bridging visa to study further and eventually live permanently. He felt safe and comfortable to explore his sexuality. 

“I used to live in Ireland before, but I’ve never been to another developed country where I feel safe and respected. I never felt like I could truly be myself in Chile, especially with the things that you hear about in the news. Before I came here, I didn’t know my sexual orientation and I was exploring myself. Seeing people dress up as whoever they want to be here gave me the safety to express myself,” He said.  


This article is a collaboration by Meld Magazine and Living Positive Victoria. If you are recently diagnosed and need support or want more information contact LPV through info@livingpositivevictoria.org.au

If you have story you want to share contact Meld@meldmagazine.com.au

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