HIV and AIDS do not belong in the past. In 1996, new treatment options in the form of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) transformed the experience of living with HIV for many in Australia. Instead of being a terminal illness, HIV became a chronic and manageable condition for many. Yet, stigma and discrimination still surrounds HIV and AIDS. Furthermore, those who lived through the epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s still carry memories and trauma that is yet to be fully appreciated by wider society.
Many volunteers who contributed during the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s felt as though they were fighting a silent war. They were coping with a loss and a scale of devastation that did not seem to be fully appreciated by the broader community.
Despite the difficulties, including many struggling to manage their own health or deal with their emotions of grief, anger and hopelessness, they mounted an incredibly effective response to the epidemic. They formed organisations, support groups, educated others, developed outreach and offered the most intimate type of care to people who desperately needed it.
Volunteers are rightly venerated in Australian culture. Yet those people who stood shoulder to shoulder with people living with HIV and AIDS during the most desperate years of the epidemic have never been fully recognised in the way they deserve. Their heroic response amongst devastation provided desperately needed hope. Their efforts should be permanently commended.