New Zealand Aids Foundation dropping Aids from its name – Stuff

Posted: June 11, 2022 at 2:00 am

The New Zealand Aids Foundation is dropping Aids from its name to reflect the broader services it provides.

Formed in response to the Aids epidemic in the early 1980s, it is changing its name to Burnett Foundation Aotearoa to honour its co-founder and pioneering Aids activist Bruce Burnett.

New data from the Otago University's Aids Epidemiology Group shows the number of people diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand is at its lowest since 2001.

In 2021, 67 people were diagnosed, a 51% drop from the previous year. It was the first year with no reported deaths from Aids since records began in 1985.

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Rodrigo Olin said when he was diagnosed with HIV almost 20 years ago it changed his life. He had to protect his health as his immune system was compromised, he avoided crowded places and avoided having sex. His life expectancy was dramatically lowered.

It was through the work of the foundation and people like Burnett that things evolved.

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Bruce Burnett, New Zealands pioneering HIV and AIDS activist.

Thanks to advances in technology and treatment my life expectancy is as long as anyone else. I cant pass on HIV because my treatment means I am undetectable. I am really proud and humbled by the work Bruce Burnett did, he said.

However, there was still a stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

Dropping the word Aids is quite significant for people like me who are living with HIV. Aids has a heavy connotation and comes with lots of stigma and prevents people from accessing services and getting tested because they dont want to be associated with that word, he said.

The new name signalled a new era in the HIV response, he said.

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Rodrigo Olin lives with HIV and works for the New Zealand Aids Foundation, which is changing its name to the Burnett Foundation Aotearoa.

Burnett Foundation Aotearoa Board chair Sam Humphrey said Burnett was a pioneering Aids activist in Aotearoa in the early 1980s, who along with a dedicated group created a nationwide support organisation for those living with and affected by Aids, and later HIV, which was still a mystery illness at the time when even being gay was illegal.

The relaunch was to honour the foundations legacy while meeting the evolving needs of people living with or affected by HIV. New issues included challenges posed by other sexually transmitted infections and physical and mental health issues affecting people living with or affected by HIV.

We have listened carefully to the communities we serve. One consistent message was that, with Aids now being rare in Aotearoa thanks to effective HIV treatments, [the] current name no longer reflects the particular challenges we face, or the services we need to provide, Humphrey said.

Burnetts sister Robyn Mihaere said she was proud of her brother and to see him recognised by the foundation.

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Wellington Lesbian and Gay Festival. Held annually since 1991. Wellington gay festival involving a dance party and other events. The first Devotion Festival was held in 1991.

Bruce was a pioneering campaigner, a beacon for like-minded people to join the cause, a change-maker, and ultimately a life-saver.

It is hard to comprehend how brave he was to publicly reveal he was living with HIV at a time when those living with the disease were shunned and persecuted, and homosexuality, sex work and needle possession were all still illegal, she said.

Bill Logan, an early activist and friend of Bruce who is a life-time member of the foundation said Burnett worked as a volunteer to help people dying of Aids in San Francisco before returning to New Zealand with Aids in 1983. With a background in social work, he was the perfect person to raise awareness of the disease and make the Government take notice.

He was full of life and energy. He was a great cook, a great friend and great fun. He was also a thinker, he said.

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Bruce Burnett set up the Aids Support Network which became the New Zealand Aids Foundation - which will now become the Burnett Foundation Aotearoa.

The work of the foundation had been an extraordinary success in both reducing the spread of the virus and helping those living with it.

There was a fear of Aids and gay people and there was also a fear among the gay community because we didnt know what was happening and what we could do about it and among all that we had people using Aids as a way of keeping homosexuality illegal, he said.

Incoming Burnett Foundation Aotearoa chief executive Joe Rich said the foundation would retain its vision, mission, and principles with its key aim to end HIV transmission in New Zealand by 2025.

He was inspired and excited by the next step in the organisations journey.

HIV will always remain at our core, even when we reach our goal of eliminating new transmissions.

We know that if we were to take our foot off the gas in the future, infections would rebound quickly.

Burnett Foundation Aotearoa would continue to empower rangatahi and future generations to stay safe, he said.

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New Zealand Aids Foundation dropping Aids from its name - Stuff

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