St Vincent's celebrates at Mardi Gras 2024

St Vincent's celebrates at Mardi Gras 2024

13 Mar 2024

Earlier this month we celebrated Mardi Gras, with many of our Pride Network and leadership team proudly marching down Oxford Street to celebrate with our LGBTQI+ and broader community.

For St Vincent’s, this year our participation has a particular was particularly poignant, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Ward 17 South, Australia’s first dedicated HIV/AIDS ward, after the first AIDS patient in Australia was diagnosed and treated at St Vincent’s.

St Vincent’s became the epicentre for diagnosis and treatment of this terrible disease during a time of fear and uncertainty, faced with an epidemic the world didn’t fully understand. 

In the same year Ward 17 South commenced dedicated HIV care, homosexuality was decriminalised, but the concurrent onset of the AIDS epidemic brought about a great deal of community fear and a lack of acceptance. 

It was a time of stigma, fear and discrimination. Terms like “gay cancer” and “the gay plague” were splashed across newspapers. Some media outlets and politicians depicted gay men as irresponsible and immoral, and homophobic aggression and violence against the gay community was rife.

It was the Sisters of Charity who, together with a group of determined clinicians stepped up to care for, advocate for and love without judgement, this most vulnerable community in their hour of need and St Vincent’s Staff stepped up to become more like family, when patients’ were rejected by their own because of their sexuality. 

The team of dedicated team of doctors and researchers, social workers, and exceptional nurses, ensured that St Vincent’s not only became a safe place for AIDS patients, they pioneered the future of HIV care, demonstrating to other hospitals around the country that care could and should be given without fear or judgement.

At the peak of the epidemic, the 36 bed ward was constantly at full capacity, and in 1998 Sacred Heart Hospice opened a dedicated AIDS floor to care for these patients at end-of-life, freeing up more space on the ward. Over the course of the epidemic, St Vincent’s treated more than half of Australia’s HIV positive people. 

Over time, ongoing research leading to advances in antiretroviral and other treatments resulted in fewer in-hospital bed days for people with AIDS, and in 2007 due to lack of need, St Vincent’s closed the AIDS ward.

In the 80’s and 90’s, 17 South had an unofficial float in the Mardi Gras parade, though they weren’t allowed to have the St Vincent’s name on it. 

Come 2024 and St Vincent’s has been proudly and very much officially participating Mardi Gras for five years, with this year culminating in this extra special celebration for our staff past and present, patients and community, and to honour all those lost to this disease along the way.