HIV patients seek treatment out of town for fear of exposure
FEAR of stigma and discrimination is forcing Sunshine Coasters with a serious illness to boycott local health services.
Health experts told APN Newsdesk people with HIV refused to get their medications from the region's chemists because they were scared of being outed as having the disease.
They also hid their HIV status from local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals for the same reason.
In July, the Federal Government made it possible for HIV-positive people to collect their antiretroviral therapy medications from community pharmacies.
Before that, the scripts could only be filled by hospital chemists.
Clinic 87 sexual health clinic director Dr Kuong Taing said most of his clients preferred to get their tablets from hospital chemists.
Dr Taing said his Gympie patients were also thronging to the Sunshine Coast instead of using services in their home town.
"Not many patients are keen to pick up from them (community pharmacies) because of the stigma that may be attached to it or the perception of the potential stigma and concerns that the privacy may not be kept at these pharmacies," Dr Taing said.
"They say 'my community is quite small so I will need to pick it up from the big hospital'.
"The issue is when they interact with a person who does not have HIV, that person may react to them differently.
"A positive person goes and shakes hands with a negative person and that negative person withdraws their hand because of their fear."
Pharmacy Guild of Australia spokesman Greg Turnbull said privacy was in the forefront of PGA members' minds.
"The guild is aware of understandable concerns about privacy associated with these medicines," Mr Turnbull said.
"People should be aware that they can talk to their pharmacist confidentially and ask for their conversation to take place in a private space where appropriate."
Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick called on the community to treat people with HIV with respect.
"It is vitally important people with HIV feel safe, respected and accepted in our communities," Mr Dick told APN Newsdesk.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said she was "disappointed and concerned" that HIV-positive rural residents did not feel comfortable.
"Everyone, no matter where they are in the country, should feel comfortable to visit their local health professional without stigma or discrimination," Ms Ley said.
"If any form of discrimination is occurring it is completely unacceptable and I would be incredibly disappointed.
"If people think they are being discriminated against then I would encourage them to report it."
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director Rob Lake said he was not surprised people were scared.
"One of the things we know is that there are people who will go to another town to see a GP, particularly in smaller towns," Mr Lake said.
"In terms of going to see their local pharmacy, it will be a tough call.
"People might be concerned because others might hear something.
"Most people aren't open about their HIV status because they don't feel comfortable about it and they are looking for pretty private relationships with their doctors and pharmacies."
By the numbers
HIV notifications across the Gympie-Sunshine Coast region:
2010: 13; 2011: 6; 2012: 8; 2013: Fewer than five notifications; 2014: 9.
Source: Queensland Department of Health.