Media – Hunter Water Hunter Hero 2019: Catherine Conaghan
The following profile was featured in the Newcastle Herald on April 1st, 2019:
Catherine Conaghan says she will “be carried out in a stretcher” before she leaves her job.
The Holmesville resident has served as Karumah Positive Living Centre’s case manager for seven years.
“I love my work,” the social worker said. “I think I’ve done all my growing in the last seven years.”
Karumah provides support to around 80 Hunter residents who live with HIV. This year, the service is celebrating its 30th birthday.
“Some people will isolate themselves,” she said. “They feel like they don’t deserve to be part of the community. So we try working with them to engage socially and become more confident.
“There can be mental health issues triggered, some have PTSD symptoms, or other mental health issues.
“For most we’re in contact with, it’s a question of: you’re never going to recover from HIV nor likely recover from mental health issues, but what is your own perception of what that could be like?”
“Basically, I will go and meet people in their homes or a venue that suits them and talk about barriers to accessing what would generally be considered normal life choices. In collaboration, we’ll establish what steps to undertake to get rid of some of those barriers,”
She said that while treatment for HIV had greatly improved and meant most people could live “a very normal life”, a positive HIV diagnosis still carries social and psychological implications.
She said a “really important” message about living with HIV was that “undetectable means untransmittable” or “U equals U”.
With early and ongoing treatment the advancement of HIV can be stopped, Ms Conaghan explained, and the virus reduced to an undetectable level in the blood. When the virus is suppressed to an undetectable level patients can be confident they will not pass the disease on to anybody else.
Ms Conaghan said her clients were mostly over the age of 40, but otherwise “very, very diverse”.
“There’s people of all backgrounds and genders and sexualities, quite a number of culturally and linguistically diverse people, people with families and people who are single,” she said.
A common factor is the stigma they experience.
“The biggest thing is that there is a human face behind the label,” Ms Conaghan said.
“It is still considered by lots of people as the worst thing that could happen to them,”
“People don’t get tested because they don’t want to live with the reality, whereas the reality is completely different to what they think. You have a good chance of having a very normal life. It won’t stop you from having a family.”
Written by Pheobe Molony
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