WA AIDS Council says Kerryn Phelps’ fake HIV email highlights stigma

The WA AIDS Council have responded to a recent fake email which claims Wentworth candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps is living with HIV and withdrawing from the race ahead of the by-election in the Sydney seat this Saturday.

The email appearing in ABC reports on Wednesday encourages voters to post their ballot for Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, claiming Dr Phelps was diagnosed with HIV and pulled out of the contest after the voting cards were printed.

The WA AIDS Council have highlighted how stunts like this email will have an impact on the lives of those living with HIV.

“No one would have the temerity to suggest a person who has diabetes, asthma or any other chronic disease, is not able to hold a public position, yet the implication in this fake email is that a person with HIV cannot hold public office,” WAAC released in a statement. “We need to call out the ignorance and the stigma lying behind this offensive email.”

“HIV is a chronic manageable illness that allows people to live productive, successful and useful lives, including public office should they so choose.”

“Not only is HIV manageable; with current medications, a person’s viral load (the amount of HIV virus within their body) can be undetectable. Where the viral load is undetectable for a period of six months, the individual is unable to trans the HIV to anyone else.”

The statement also highlights another implicit message of the email; that HIV only affects certain communities, such as the LGBTIQ+ community.

“Many heterosexual men acquire HIV when travelling in other areas of the world where there is a high prevalence of HIV amongst men and women. Some heterosexual men may not be aware they have acquired HIV unless they test for it.”

David Kernohan, CEO of the WA AIDS Council, says he would encourage heterosexual men to test for HIV when they have been to high prevalence areas and engaged in sexual or drug taking behaviours that may have placed them at risk.

“Many people living with HIV struggle with the stigma and discrimination that comes from people’s lack of understanding and knowledge, as typified in this false email,” the statement continues.

“Yet, despite the stigma that still exists, many people are not only living productive and useful lives, they are living with dignity, compassion and respect for other people.”

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