Primbee man recognised for health fight

Sex, drugs and disease have been at the forefront of Michael Fernandez's mind for more than 20 years.

This Australia Day, the Primbee local will receive the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the community through public health programs.

"I am Australian but I wasn't born in Australia," Mr Fernandez said. "To get a Medal of the Order of Australia on Australia Day is an incredible honour."

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As a health worker for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, Mr Fernandez has been contributing to the prevention of communicable diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, and has helped people to address their drug problems and become productive members of the community since the early 1990s.

He is manager of the First Step program, a health worker in the Needle and Syringe Program since 1992, and is an adviser to other NSW area health services.

Mr Fernandez said it could be a stressful job, particularly due to the dramatic changes in drug use and patterns over the past two decades.

"It's not a nine-to-five job," he said. "We can't tell someone to wait until Monday. But I work with a highly committed team who are passionate about their work. It makes it easier for me."

Mr Fernandez said his job could be challenging, but it was often more challenging for the people he helped.

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