History of NZAF

NZAF was born out of the gay community’s response to AIDS in the early 1980s. We became an incorporated society called The AIDS Support Network in March 1985.

1985 – 1995: The rise of the HIV epidemic

The AIDS Support Network was renamed the New Zealand AIDS Foundation later that year.

While HIV was originally diagnosed in five men in the USA in 1981, the first case of the virus wasn’t recorded in New Zealand until 1984. By this stage, volunteers and community members around New Zealand had been raising awareness about HIV and AIDS for some time.

HIV education in New Zealand was spurred on thanks to the energy of Bruce Burnett, a Kiwi who had been living in San Francisco but returned home to educate the public about HIV and AIDS. Sadly, he died in 1985 shortly after NZAF received its first Government grant of $490,000 towards staffing the organisation and running a major HIV prevention campaign.

Bruce Burnett

By April 1986, there were 18 reported cases of AIDS in New Zealand. Those who received the 136 positive HIV tests at that time were all gay men. Early in the epidemic, international research showed condoms were the most successful prevention measure for HIV transmission during sex. As a result, condom use for gay and bisexual men was adopted by NZAF as its main prevention message.

Poster campaigns and newspaper ads focused on educating at-risk communities about HIV prevention. NZAF also had a strong human rights focus and pushed for the 1986 homosexual law reform, the 1987 legalisation of needle exchanges and inclusion of sexuality and HIV in the anti-discrimination clauses of the amendment of the New Zealand Human Rights Act in 1993.

During the 1990s, efforts were put into better understanding the social, sexual and demographic characteristics of gay and bisexual men who consistently accounted for upwards of 80% of the HIV positive population in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In 1994, the first pilot study of this demographic was initiated, piggy-backing off the Australian study Male Call.

1995 - 2005: An evolving landscape

In 1996, the first complete New Zealand Male Call study ran. Almost 1500 men from around the country were involved, giving 45 minute telephone interviews. Ten reports were written which contributed to the development of NZAF’s HIV prevention programmes.

Late into the decade, NZAF diversified its outreach in response to community need.

While new diagnoses for gay and bisexual men declined between 1990 and 1997, there was a spike in new heterosexual diagnoses in 1998. This coincided with new immigration policies. Many HIV positive people from African countries moved to New Zealand in the early 2000s.

Since the millennium, NZAF has continued to support people living with HIV while also renewing its focus on condom-based, population targeted HIV prevention programmes. Strategies were developed to meet the needs of African, Pacific and Takataapui communities in Aotearoa.

2005 - 2015: Global advances

As we continue to respond to global advances in technology and medicines, the way HIV prevention and support is addressed in New Zealand is also changing.

The focus for HIV prevention programmes for gay and bisexual men has shifted since 2010 with the introduction of NZAF’s social marketing and behavioural change programme, Love Your Condom (LYC). Instead of placing education and safe sex messaging as key to reducing new infections, LYC is revolutionising HIV prevention by placing audience interaction and brand-engagement as central to influencing behaviour. LYC focuses on creating a sex-positive, fun condom culture in Aotearoa.

2015 and beyond: Staying vigilant

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has changed dramatically over 30 years with medications meaning that HIV no longer progresses to AIDS and people with the virus live a normal lifespan. However, HIV remains incurable and the prevention of new infections remains as relevant as ever. To eradicate HIV we need to use all we have learned in 30 years, add the new tools available today and strive for even greater success. We need more testing, no barriers to treatment, targeted use of PrEP and sexual education of the ethnically diverse 5,000 young gay men who hit puberty each year. We need to keep increasing the awareness of the importance of condom use.

Further reading

For more information click to see our annual reports and the POZ TIMELINE of Milestones in the HIV/AIDS Pandemic.

To see the history of NZAF's social marketing media click here.

Our Suggested Reading