Peer Navigator Nathan continues to uplift PLHIV and fight stigma in the Courier Mail!

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QPP would like to celebrate Nathan, one of our Peer Navigators, on continuing to be a voice for change in our community and his hard work in reshaping the discussions around HIV. In addition to his work as a peer navigator Nathan has worked on a stigma reduction and resilience program, and his ongoing passion for uplifting people living with HIV continues to inspire us all. Thanks to the Courier Mail for publishing this amazing article!

 Full Text from the August 19th edition of the Courier Mail: NATHAN Butler is healthy, in a committed heterosexual relationship - and also has HIV. The 25-year-old was born with the virus to HIV-positive parents. His mother died the day before his second birthday, leaving him to be raised by his dad, who is still living with HIV in his late-60s. Growing up, Mr Butler said his father encouraged him to be open about his HIV status and to be "proud of who I am". "My dad taught me to use my journey to help influence change and put a different face to the virus," he said. "HIV can impact anyone. You don't have to be a gay man." More than 30 years after the divisive Grim Reaper advertisements, Mr Butler is telling his story to challenge the stereotypes and social stigma that still surround HIV. One of more than 27,000 Australians living with the virus, he recalls being supported by his teachers and other students' families during his school years. But towards the end of high school, for about a year, he stopped taking his anti-retroviral medication - the drugs that have transformed HIV into a manageable condition, rather than a death sentence. "At the time, I didn't understand the thoughts and feelings in my head that was triggering me to stop the drugs," Mr Butler recalled. "It wasn't until I got very sick that one of my doctors pulled me aside and was like: 'OK, what's going on'?  "Eventually, I started seeing a psychologist It took me a while to realise I was stigmatising myself, what's known as self stigma, or internalised stigma. "The fear of other people's reactions was impacting on me." His first experience of overt discrimination didn't come until about two years ago. A woman he connected with on a dating site told him: "Don't come near me, I don't want to talk to you again," when he disclosed his HIV status at their first meeting. Her reaction stunned him, particularly because she was studying to be a health worker. "There's still a lot more to do in terms of stigma," Mr Butler said. "It can cause depression, anxiety, living in a heightened sense of fear. It's that feeling of being 'less than' when in reality, we're no different" Mr Butler's daily medication regimen has reduced the amount of virus in his system to "undetectable" levels, cutting the chance of him passing on HIV to "effectively zero". "I live a happy and normal life," he said. "In this modern era, we're really lucky to have a lot of treatment options available."  Cairns Base Hospital sexual health director Darren Russell said no proven case of HIV transmission had occurred when the virus was controlled on medications. "The medications keep the person healthy and also prevent onward sexual transmission. It really is a game-changer for people living with HIV," Dr Russell said. HIV notifications in Queensland have been steadily dropping since 2014, when 245 new cases were recorded. Last year, 180 people were diagnosed in Queensland and so far in 2019, 96 new HIV cases have been reported - 26 fewer than the five-year average at this stage of the year. In Queensland, an estimated 5500 people are living with HIV.  Mr Butler works with HIV advocacy organisation Queensland Positive People. He uses his own experiences to help provide emotional and social support and also assists with navigating the health system. Using a community grant from pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare, which specialises in the development of HIV therapies, Mr Butler was involved in running a series of workshops aimed at tackling internal stigma and building resilience in people living with HIV. "It was really key to remind people that it's not our fault that stigma exists," he said. "If society didn't stigmatise people with HIV then internalised stigma wouldn't exist. "I had the wonderful experience of running into one of my participants about six months after the intervention. His whole outlook had changed." Mr Butler hopes to run another workshop through Queensland Positive People later this year. FOR MORE INFORMATION, QPP.ORG.AU