Young People Living with HIV in Contemporary Australia
What is the research about?
The scientific, political and community response to HIV has changed immensely over the last 40 years of the pandemic and, with it, the lived experience of people with HIV in Australia. Young people diagnosed with HIV today receive their diagnosis in a very different context than those diagnosed in previous generations.
Biomedical advances in treatment have led to the era of Treatment as Prevention (TasP) and rendered HIV a chronic condition. However, despite these advances in the biomedical aspects of the virus, stigmas persist.
The successes of the Australian HIV response mean that relatively few young people aged 18–29 are living with HIV in Australia. While young people aged 18–29 are considered ‘adults’ in existing health and HIV services, evidence increasingly defines this age group as being distinct from the broader adult population in important ways. This means that the needs of young people living with HIV risk being overlooked in the context of health promotion and service design and delivery.
The changing nature of what it means to be young—and HIV positive—in Australia today raises questions about whether the HIV service infrastructure is catering for the needs of all people living with HIV. However, very little research has focused on young people with HIV. This is a missed opportunity to ensure they are being meaningfully recognised and supported.
To address this gap, the Young + Positive study was developed. It was the first study in Australia to document accounts of young people (aged 18-29) living with HIV and explored how they felt connected to and accessed HIV services and support.
How was the research completed?
This research was guided by the Greater Involvement of People with HIV/AIDS (GIPA) and the Meaningful Involvement of People living with HIV/AIDS (MIPA) principles. We made sure that consultation and collaboration were at the centre of the research design, primarily through the establishment of a steering committee that provided essential advice throughout.
Membership comprised of young people with lived experience of being HIV positive, as well as several organisations and networks including:
Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC)
Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH)
Sydney Children’s Hospital (SCH)
Living Positive Victoria (LPV)
Victorian AIDS Council (VAC)
AIDS Council of NSW (ACON)
The Institute of Many (TIM)
Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (YEAH)
This study used a convergent parallel mixed-method design underpinned by a multidimensional theoretical approach. Survey data (n = 60) and qualitative interviews (n = 25) were gathered between 2017 and 2019. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis to explore how young people understand HIV and their connection, capacity and willingness to access care and support, and aimed to identify opportunities for improving engagement around their HIV support needs.
What were the research findings?
The implications of the research findings suggest that young people see themselves as a distinct cohort with specific needs in relation to their HIV and that opportunities exist to integrate young people more meaningfully into existing HIV service systems to better meet their support needs.
Check out the results page to keep up to date with the findings of this study as they are published.
Who was involved in this research?
Young + Positive was a PhD study completed in 2022 by Dr Lisa Wojciechowski through the University of Melbourne, Department of Social Work.
Lisa is a social worker with several years of experience working alongside people with HIV within hospital and community-based settings. It is through this work that she became interested in the experiences and psychosocial support needs of young people living with HIV.
The research was supervised/overseen by Professor Louise Harms (University of Melbourne), Professor Christy Newman (Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Australia) and Dr Allison Carter (Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society).
Where can I get more information about this study?
If you have more questions about this study, please reach out by contacting us via the website.
We are currently in the process of publishing findings from the Young + Positive Study.
Watch this space for more updates as they arise.
In the meantime, check out this short essay we wrote for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) publication: 'HIV Australia'. Or listen to Lisa being interviewed about the Young + Positive study on this podcast.
If you'd like to know more about the Young + Positive study get in contact with us. Let us know if you'd like us to call or email you in the message section.