Unveiling the many faces of AIDS

At the unveiling of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Lismore Base Hospital on Monday were (rear l-r) Dr David Smith (medical director, North Coast Area Sexual Health Services), Chris Crawford (NCAHS chief executive), Marlene Herne (SHAIDS), Amber McBride (ACON) and Roy Starky (ACON) with (front l-r) Vicky Bardon (SHAIDS), Tania Lienert (ACON manager), HIV/AIDS survivor Nick Roy and Beverley Scott-Visser (SHAIDS).

When Nick Roy left the bright lights of Sydney for the tranquility of the North Coast, doctors said he was unlikely to survive more than 12 months.

Basically I was looking for somewhere to lay down and die, said Nick.

The year was 1991 and Nick was HIV positive. The death sentence shattered him, so he headed north, choosing Kempsey as the place to live out his last days because of its proximity to a major hospital. Not everyone in Kempsey greeted Nick with open arms and he was outed in a nasty display of poisonous and very public scrawlings.

I dont know why they did it but it was very, very cruel, said Nick. I felt extremely down and alone, but then a lovely friend who lived in Nashua suggested I come up here where people are a bit more open minded.

Now, 15 years later, Nick is still living with HIV/AIDS and helping to raise local awareness of the infection in the lead up to World AIDS Day this Friday, December 1.

On Monday, Nick attended the unveiling of a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Lismore Base Hospital, which is a tribute to Australians who have died of the disease. Launched in 1988, the entire quilt could easily cover the MCG, twice, and due to its fragility, this year could be the last time panels are toured around Australia.

I lost 40 friends when the AIDS epidemic hit Sydney and another 13 have died since I left Sydney 15 years ago, said Nick. I hope that the Northern Rivers community never has to witness an epidemic of that proportion. As a long term HIV positive person I have seen a lot of complacency in the community about AIDS, and thats why Im here. To raise awareness and remind young people in particular that anyone can contract the virus, and there is no way of knowing that someone has it. A person can be infected with HIV for 13 years and still show no signs of it.

While Nick highly commends the good work of organisations such as ACON and SHAIDS, he believes local councils need to do more to remind people that AIDS has not gone away.

I cant believe that there isnt more information on HIV in the restrooms of hotels and clubs that young people frequent in the Northern Rivers, said Nick. This is where the next generation is hanging out and the safe sex message needs to get through. And its not about being gay. I got HIV because I had unprotected sex with an infected individual.

Dr David Smith, medical director of the North Coast Sexual Health Service, said that the quilts message had been influential in keeping the HIV/AIDS rate down in Australia but that World AIDS Day was also a time to reflect on the millions of people dying from AIDS world wide.

Five people die of AIDS every minute of every day and the vast majority of these are in sub-Saharan Africa where the safe sex message is largely ignored by governments.

World AIDS Day will be marked in Lismore this Friday, December 1, with candlelight vigil to remember those who have died. It will be held in Heritage Park from 5pm.

For more information phone ACON on 6622 1555.

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