The emergence of the human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV, is the defining pandemic of the 20th century. Having claimed the lives of more than 36.3 million, it remains a major global public health issue.
HIV spread rapidly in Australia in the early 1980s. By then, researchers had identified that left untreated was the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – AIDS. More than 5,000 Australians had died of AIDS-related causes by the time antiretrovirals were introduced in the 1990s.
Nursing played a crucial role in caring for HIV/AIDS patients, providing comfort and symptom management, and palliative care for those dying in the early days of the pandemic.
As HIV nursing care moved from hospitals to clinics and the community, a push began for more education and advanced practice nurses to care for people in a place of their choice.
RDNS Silverchain has offered skilled and compassionate home nursing services for over 130 years to South Australians. In 1989, RDNS established a HIV/AIDS service to provide nursing care and support. The RDNS Silverchain HIV/AIDS service has continually evolved as HIV treatments have advanced, allowing those with the virus to lead healthy lives.
In 2010, the South Australian Government funded RDNS Silverchain’s HIV Enhanced Primary Care Coordination Program (EPCCP). The statewide program provides nursing care and health coordination services to people newly diagnosed or living with HIV, including symptom and medication management, mental health support, and referrals to other health specialists.
Angela Rutland has led the EPCCP team for 13 years.
"Science and the quality of care have transformed HIV from a fatal disease to a chronic, manageable condition and our team has evolved to meet the needs of our clients.,” Ms Rutland said.
Ms Rutland says while most people diagnosed will lead long and healthy lives, stigma continues to be challenging for people living with HIV.
"Stigma can profoundly impact the health and wellbeing of a person living with HIV by discouraging some people from learning their HIV status and accessing treatment and care."
Ms Rutland says keeping clients engaged in their health and connected to their community ensures they can overcome the stigma experienced due to their HIV status.
"Many of our clients are long-term survivors and families with children, refugees and people recently diagnosed,” Ms Rutland.
"We see the whole person, without judgement and working with humanity, kindness and respect, to respond to the needs of all people with HIV.”
RDNS Silverchain nurses have played an influential role in the treatment of people living with HIV. Their compassion and innovative practices have helped create a more positive environment for HIV-positive clients, helping them to remain engaged in their treatment to achieve their best health.