Everyone copes with and reacts differently to HIV. Your approach to work, socialising and living with HIV will be unique and that is ok.
Testing positive for HIV often leaves a person overwhelmed with questions and concerns. Remember there is support available to help you come to terms with a recent diagnosis and along your journey. Check out this page for people, tools, counselling and other support that you can access.
People living with HIV have the same human rights as everyone else, including the right to health, privacy, non-interference from the state and non-discrimination. No one can refuse you a job, housing, medical services or dental services because of your HIV diagnosis. In fact, it is illegal in NZ to discriminate based on HIV status under the Human Rights Act and you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission if you feel you have faced discrimination.
If you think you have been discriminated against, the first step is to contact the Commission’s InfoLine team: freephone 0800 496 877 or email [email protected] – or you can send a letter, or use the complaint forms available at www.hrc.co.nz.
This right to non-discrimination extends to your partners, family, friends, colleagues and other people associated with you. No one can treat people unfairly because of their relationship with you.
In Aotearoa, although you are not obliged to tell anyone your status in your personal life, the law may require you to disclose your status under certain circumstances. For example, if you want to donate blood, semen, eggs or organs - then it is important to disclose your HIV status to doctors.
People living with HIV are protected against discrimination by the same laws that protect people living with a disability. In most work and employment scenarios, you are not required to disclose your HIV status. In fact, your employer is held accountable and has to take all reasonable steps to protect you from harassment at your place of work.
If you’re thinking of applying for life insurance, some companies may ask you about your HIV status. Some might refuse to insure you if you’re living with HIV or if you refuse to tell them your HIV status. There are exceptions in the Human Rights Act that may allow this, though you can check with the Human Rights Commission if you’re not sure.
Rainbow Lifestyle Protection (an insurance broker in Christchurch) have been providing life insurance to PLHIV through Fidelity Life.
Telling others of your diagnosis is easier if you have given yourself time to feel ready. You might be worried about telling others that you’re living with HIV. You might be scared or anxious about what people’s reactions might be if you tell them. There are no hard-and-fast rules about when, how and even if you tell the people in your life that you are living with HIV. Under New Zealand law, you are not obligated to tell your sexual partners your HIV status as long as you are using condoms every time. When deciding who to disclose to, you may wish to ask yourself these questions to help you decide whether you can trust someone with the information that you’re living with HIV:
- Will they offer me support?
- Will they respect my confidentiality?
- Will it help me if they know?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, the person you are considering telling may not be the best choice. Try to find someone you feel sure will be supportive, non-judgemental, discreet and helpful. A counsellor or peer support person may be able to help you make the best decision. Once you have decided who to tell, you might find it useful to let them know who else you have told so that they can support each other, as well as you.
As far as relationships go, the decision to tell or not to tell sexual partners is yours to make.
In New Zealand, as long as you’re using condoms every time you have vaginal or anal penetrative sex, you are not legally obligated to disclose your HIV status.
Under New Zealand law, everyone has a legal duty not to endanger the life, health or safety of others. In law, this means that people living with HIV must take ‘reasonable precautions’ to avoid transmitting HIV to sexual partners. ‘Reasonable precautions’ would mean participating in sexual activities that involve a very low risk or no risk of transmission, for example, masturbation, oral sex and kissing, and using condoms for anal and vaginal sex.
The legal consequences of having an undetectable viral load have not been tested in New Zealand courts. In this case, even though there is no risk of sexual transmission, it is recommended to use condoms with partners who are unaware of your HIV status.
People living with HIV who disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners before having consensual sex avoid legal liability. There are some considerations to be mindful of here.
There are many parents living with HIV who are raising healthy, HIV-negative kids.
There is a risk of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy and during or after childbirth but, with the right care, it can be greatly reduced. Babies of pregnant women living with HIV with an undetectable viral load, who are on treatment, have greatly lowered risk of acquiring HIV.
At the time of birth, medication makes the chances of HIV transmission low. Options for delivering the baby will depend on the mother’s health and results from key blood tests. Babies are given anti-HIV medicines after birth for some time as well. If you think you might be pregnant or want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. Positive Women Inc. also has excellent resources on HIV and pregnancy.
Since 2007, there have been no children with perinatally-acquired HIV born in New Zealand
There are different kinds of contraception and options will vary, depending on whether you’re on antiretroviral treatment yourself or if you are sexually active with a person living with HIV. Condoms remain the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and transmission of HIV and other STIs.
Some types of hormonal contraceptives could interfere with antiretroviral treatment and you may not be able to take emergency contraceptive pills. Taking the pill or having an IUD fitted is an effective contraceptive option. Spermicide usually used with diaphragms and caps isn’t recommend if you’re living with HIV. Using this method will often irritate the vagina. You may itch and get genital sores or lesions, which increases the risk of HIV transmission.
With a little planning, you’ll be able to avoid hassles while travelling. You’ll need to carry your medication with you, so ask your doctor for a letter explaining that you need to take it regularly and that it’s for personal use. The letter doesn’t have to discuss your HIV status. Carry documents and medication in your hand luggage and have enough medication to last you the whole trip.
You can get HIV medication at pharmacies only if you have a doctor’s prescription for them, so carry this with you to show immigration officers in case they ask for it. As most modern HIV medicines don’t need any special storage, it is easy to carry them when you’re away.
Some countries have entry restrictions for people living with HIV. Check it out beforehand, because if you travel there with HIV medicines, you may be deported. HIV Travel provides helpful information about the countries that people living with HIV may not be able to travel to.
It’s not worth skipping HIV medicines for any reason, even if you are travelling to a place you really want to visit. If you miss your medication, you may become resistant to the drugs and could become ill. Be aware of different time zones, because you need to take pills at the same time daily. Discuss how you can work out timings on your journey with your doctor if you’re going to a country with a huge time difference or if your travel involves long flights.
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation is not a registered immigration advisor and we’re not able to provide immigration advice. However we do know that Immigration New Zealand currently lists HIV as a medical condition that is likely to impose significant costs or demands on New Zealand’s health service, with it included within the list of health conditions that are automatically considered a burden. Unfortunately, this means most visas for people living with HIV are declined. Having said that, each case and process will be different, and thankfully medical waivers are an option. Once you’re in New Zealand, HIV treatment is publicly funded and free, regardless of immigration status. However visits to a GP or other health professionals are likely to incur costs.
We strongly believe that HIV should not be a barrier to obtaining residency in New Zealand, and this is a key area of advocacy for the organisation as we seek to challenge Immigration New Zealand on their inclusion of HIV within this list of conditions automatically considered a health burden.
People living with HIV, on treatment, are living long, healthy lives and should have the same opportunity as HIV negative people to contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand. Further to this, evidence shows that people living with HIV, on effective treatment, who have an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV to their sexual partners. PHARMAC has replaced several ARTs with generic versions, and the cost of treatment in New Zealand is reducing significantly as PHARMAC negotiates further savings, which helps our case greatly.
We recommend you contact Immigration New Zealand or a registered immigration advisor to discuss your situation, however if you require any further information or a letter of support for your visa application then please contact our Policy team.