Phoebe Moloney – NOVEMBER 17 2019 – 7:00AM
STORIES: Karumah’s community and promotions officer Aly James with the service’s new book Karuma: 30 Years of Care. Picture: Supplied
After thirty years of supporting residents of the Hunter region with HIV, staff at Karumah say they are grateful to be able to tell a very different story about the virus to their clients and the community.
Whereas once the disease was a death sentence, early and ongoing medical treatment can now stop the disease’s progression and maintain the viral load at an undetectable level – at which point sufferers can be confident they won’t pass it to others.
“You have a good chance of living a very normal life,” said Karumah case worker Catherine Conaghan. “And it won’t stop you from having a family. I think the reality is completely different to what a lot of people think.”
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Newcastle not-for-profit service is launching a book on Sunday sharing 30 stories from its clients past and present of love, loss and survival.
PASSIONATE: Catherine Conaghan is a case manager at Karumah Positive Living Centre. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
The support service hopes to illustrate the diversity of people the disease affects in the Hunter, which Ms Conaghan says includes men and women of differing sexualities and backgrounds. “Karumah: 30 years of Caring” aims to humanize those with HIV, as a large part of the service’s work in 2019 is trying to counter the impacts of stigma and discrimination on clients’ lives.
“We hope that this project can not only preserve the history of Newcastle’s response to the virus but also show that HIV affects people from all walks of life,” said Karumah’s community and promotions officer Aly James, who collated the stories.
“Above all, we want to celebrate the uniqueness and resilience of our community.”
One client of Karumah, who has asked to remain anonymous, said when he was first diagnosed with HIV 10 years ago he thought he was “going to die”.
“I thought I wouldn’t have a future and I was worried about my family and friends. Luckily, I quickly learnt that is not the case,” he said.
The Lambton resident sought treatment “right away” and, with daily medication, achieved an undetectable viral load within months.
Ward 11 at Royal Newcastle Hospital decked out for Christmas just days before the 1989 earthquake. Picture: Archival image collected by Pauline Dobson and Richard Riley
“The virus never really had a chance to progress so there’s been very little impact on my overall health, thankfully. This also means my work has been largely unaffected,” he said.
“Because I’m undetectable I cannot pass HIV onto another person. However, dating is still hard because there is so much stigma.
“I wish people would come from a place of understanding instead of fear.”
He said meeting others with HIV through Karumah had been “life changing”.
“I have made friends who I don’t have to explain anything to,” he said.Karumah is hosting a celebration for the launch of the book in Newcastle on Sunday. Those interested in attending can email email@example.com for details of the event.