Why Access to Free HIV Treatment Is Important for Me

This article was written by community contributor S.A.M. and is also available in Simplified Chinese.

When reading the exciting news on the Ending HIV website about free access to treatment for all people living with HIV, including those Medicare-ineligible, which took effect from 1st July 2022, my memory travels back to 12 years ago.

In early 2010, I was diagnosed positive for HIV. I cannot remember my CD4 count and viral load the doctor told me on that day. But I can still remember the feeling of shock from receiving the news – the air in the sexual health clinic suddenly felt cold, and when I left, I felt a dizzy and hurting feeling.

After I informed the doctor that I was an international student without Medicare, and therefore ineligible for free HIV medication. I had financial difficulty at that time, and couldn’t afford the medication. For me, studying in Australia, my parents had already borrowed money from our relatives, and I could not ask for more from them.

During the time that I wasn’t receiving any treatment, the staff of the sexual health clinic tried their best to help and support me, arranging regular health check-ups for me to track my health, just in case.

I often felt stressed, depressed and anxious during that time. I worried about many “ifs”, such as what would happen if my health got worse due to my immune system being compromised. And as the only child of my parents, I often felt a sense of no hope for my family, a feeling of ness and despair.

Over a year later, thanks to all my doctors and nurses at the sexual health clinic, I was lucky to get involved in a trial to get free HIV medication. I felt so relieved, even though nobody knew how short or long the trial would last. Maybe one day it would finish, and I would be left out of the treatment. But for now, I was so happy that I could finally receive treatment to improve my health.

Years later, I have my Australian permanent residency, I have my own Medicare, and am getting free HIV medication. However, those times of struggling to get HIV medication still feel like only yesterday.

Not every international student in Australia is from a rich family. If they are diagnosed with HIV, they would probably have a similar experience to me and not be able to afford medication.

I used to have a young friend who was also an international student living with HIV in Australia. He had to spend quite some money every year to get HIV medication. This caused a lot of financial struggles and inconveniences in his life. But now, people living with HIV, like him, like me in the past, and like so many people today, have free access to HIV treatment regardless of having Medicare or not. I feel so happy and relieved for them. The times of struggling to get HIV medication are now a thing of yesterday!

S.A.M. is a gay guy with Chinese background, who has been living in Australia for over a decade. He is active in the community of people living with HIV. He is a researcher in education but dreams of a life of home duties and leisure. He lives with his boyfriend in Sydney’s Inner West.