HIV Client Support Program

The Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service (MHAHS)

HIV Client Support Program

Since the early 1990s, the MHAHS has been providing support to people from CALD communities, who are living with HIV.
The MHAHS HIV Client Support Program employs Cultural Support Workers (CSWs). Upon referral (from sexual health clinics, also HIV services, and self-referral), the service links CSWs to people who have received a diagnosis, to provide appropriate support as they learn to live with HIV, and to mitigate the challenges they experience.

What makes this model effective?

  • Bi-cultural and bi-lingual, CSWs are from the CALD communities and countries of origin of their clients. Approximately 84 workers cover 27 languages for client support.
  • CSWs have knowledge of health, welfare, immigration, housing, employment, education and other support services and systems.
  • They receive regular training and supervision, they have up-to-date knowledge of HIV and treatment, PEP, PrEP, treatment as prevention and testing. They bridge the culture and HIV knowledge gap.
  • Support is available Mon – Sat, 9am – 9pm, (including on-call, for access to senior social workers as necessary).
  • CSWs provide valuable consultancy and cultural input for clinicians around the needs of CALD communities and individuals in relation to HIV.
  • Free and confidential.

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As you may be aware there are many Issues affecting CALD PLHIV: (these are interconnected, and impact on testing and treatment adherence)

  • Visa insecurity
  • Medicare eligibility
  • Language and literacy difficulties
  • Lack of familiarity with healthcare and other systems
  • Financial worries
  • Welfare eligibility
  • Accommodation
  • Social isolation
  • Employment
  • Social and emotional wellbeing/health
  • Stigma

For CALD PLHIV, an HIV diagnosis can have a devastating impact – stigma is the biggest issue which people experience, and which is linked to low testing rates, late diagnosis (death, poor health literacy, “othering” of who is infected). In many non-Western, non-Anglo cultures, HIV is associated with death and deviancy – at odds with current, Western biomedical approaches and understandings.   While we can tell CALD people they have a chronic, manageable condition, they are seeing it through a very different lens.

Ongoing global migration patterns mean that different understandings of HIV will continue to be imported.  Our service understands how HIV is perceived in CALD communities within Australia. Sensitive individual support; facilitating access to services; accessible, appropriate information and education; and community development, are ways to mitigate the impacts of stigma and discrimination, thereby enhancing testing and adherence to treatment, as well as improved quality of life.