Press Release – 28th September 2017
HIV Ireland calls for Government action as national survey finds stigma continues to impact on people living with HIV
17 per cent of HIV positive people say they have felt suicidal in the last year.
HIV Ireland is calling on the Government to provide additional resources for HIV prevention, education and care after its ‘HIV in Ireland Survey 2017’ revealed the impact that stigma continues to have on people living with the condition in this country. The survey, one of the most significant pieces of research on stigma and HIV knowledge to be carried out in Ireland in over a decade, will be launched this morning (28.09.17) at HIV Ireland’s 30th Anniversary National Conference on HIV and Stigma. Among its findings are that 17 per cent of people living with HIV said they felt suicidal in the last year; a quarter are not comfortable with their own HIV positive status; more than half are single, and a third had experienced being rejected in a relationship due to their HIV status.
Commenting, HIV Ireland’s executive director, Niall Mulligan said: “This survey is of crucial importance in highlighting the need for policy makers and politicians to understand the impact that HIV-related stigma is having on people living with the condition. When 17 per cent of people living with HIV say they have felt suicidal in the last year, compared to a national average of four per cent, it’s time to open our eyes to the damage that HIV-related stigma is having on people’s lives. The Government urgently needs to provide additional resources within the areas of HIV prevention, education, community testing, counselling, mediation and human rights advocacy.”
The ‘HIV in Ireland 2017 Survey’ was undertaken to identify levels of knowledge, and attitudes to HIV, within the whole population, as well as recording the experiences of people living with HIV. Some 1,013 people responded to the general survey and 168 people responded to the survey specifically for people living with HIV.
Among the general population, the research found varying degrees of knowledge about HIV. Younger people were found to have less correct knowledge than older people, though they were also more likely to be welcoming of someone living with HIV.
Key findings in the survey include:
- 98 per cent of respondents correctly thought that HIV can be transmitted by sharing needles or syringes, and a similar percentage were aware it can be passed on through sex without a condom.
- 20 per cent of 18-to-24-year olds incorrectly thought HIV can be passed from person to person through the sharing of a public toilet seat (compared to 10% of those over 24).
- 24 per cent of people incorrectly believe that HIV can be transmitted by kissing, while 11 per cent incorrectly thought it could be transmitted through coughing or sneezing.
- 10 per cent of people stated that they wouldn’t feel comfortable working with a colleague who was HIV positive.
- 54 per cent of people living with HIV are single.
- 98 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘young people should be taught about HIV transmission during secondary school’.
HIV stigma affects the wider community according to Mr Mulligan. “Negative, or misinformed attitudes to HIV, and towards people living with HIV, can create obstacles for people getting tested. UNAIDS estimates that across Europe, 15 per cent of people living with HIV aren’t aware of their condition. It is crucial that we remove as many barriers as possible to people getting tested. Stigma is one of those barriers”.
He added: “This conference marks the 30th anniversary of HIV Ireland. In the ’80s and ’90s during the AIDS epidemic there was much fear, misinformation and indignity for people living with HIV. Thirty years on, with the continued improvements in HIV treatment, the landscape has changed dramatically, with people diagnosed with HIV now living longer and healthier lives. It is now scientifically accepted that people living with HIV who are compliant with treatment, and have an undetectable viral load, will not pass on HIV to sexual partners. This survey gives us hope for the future when we see increased interest in HIV education within our schools, and a strong acceptance of people living with HIV. In particular, the survey findings highlight the need for increased resources to meet the needs of people living with HIV.”
The conference will be opened by Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD. She said: “I commend the work that HIV Ireland has undertaken over the past 30 years, and want to pay tribute to all the staff and volunteers at the heart of the organisation. Last year alone, HIV Ireland supported more than 2,000 interventions for people living with HIV. The Government through the HSE continues to provide annual funding to HIV Ireland for the important work that it undertakes in the areas of support for people living with HIV and for the promotion of sexual health in the general population.’
“However, I am concerned about the continuing increase in new HIV diagnoses, and I’m aware that the late diagnosis of HIV continues to be an issue. This is one of the reasons why the Government provided funding to pilot KnowNow Rapid Testing, a peer-led point-of-care HIV testing initiative in pubs and clubs as part of the National Sexual Health Strategy. Along with the National Drugs Strategy, the ongoing implementation of the National Sexual Health Strategy reaffirms the commitment of the Department of Health to continue to support the work of community organisations like HIV Ireland in their response to increasing HIV figures.”
The one-day conference will explore the history of HIV, stigma and social inclusion in addiction, homelessness, sex work, the LGBT community, the migrant community, and people living with HIV in Ireland since 1987. Speakers include LGBT campaigner Tonie Walsh; Dr Maeve Foreman of Trinity College Dublin; Dr Austin O’Carroll of SafetyNet; Kate McGrew of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland, and Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. Founder of the Irish NAMES Project, Mary Shannon will present the story behind the Irish AIDS Quilt, made by families affected by HIV in Ireland.
Further information on the conference and survey findings is available at www.hivireland.ie.
Contact: Joanne Ahern / Louise Archbold, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-9881837 / 087-2601145.
Notes to Editors:
- Interviews available on request.
- Photographer Nick Bradshaw will issue photos to picture desks on Thursday afternoon.
- The ‘HIV in Ireland 2017’ report comprises the findings from two surveys, conducted between March and May 2017. The general population survey was disseminated by Empathy Research as part of an omnibus survey amongst members of their proprietary research panel and was representative of gender, age and location in Ireland. Survey respondents were required to be at least 18 years of age and the survey was completed by 1,013 people (margin of error +/- 3.2 per cent). The People Living with HIV Stigma Survey was designed by Quality Matters and disseminated through social media channels, through HIV support agencies and health services. Survey respondents were required to be at least 18 years of age and to have received a diagnosis of HIV infection. The survey was completed by 168 respondents.
Sunday, 24th September 2017
LGBT activist calls for national AIDS memorial
LGBT activist Tonie Walsh has called on the Government to fund an Irish AIDS Memorial to honour those who have died from AIDS in Ireland, as well as their caregivers and activists. Mr Walsh will outline his vision at this week’s HIV Ireland National Conference on HIV and Stigma. The conference, which marks the 30th anniversary of HIV Ireland, will take place at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin on Thursday, 28th September 2017.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Walsh said: “More than 35 million people have died from AIDS worldwide, and unfortunately, people are still dying of AIDS. I am calling on the Government to support a permanent and prominent national AIDS memorial to remember those who have died, but also to acknowledge those who have worked to improve their lives.
“A place of memory is so important for the mobilisation of a community and of our society, as memorialising our loss and grief allows us to better value and share the coping mechanisms and survival strategies of a previous generation. In seeking a national AIDS memorial, I look to cities such as Toronto, New York, and Durban, which all have visually striking memorials.”
He added: “I would like to see a consultation process of stakeholders in civil society regarding the design, procurement and siting of the monument. With due process, and the goodwill of Government and the public sector, I would hope this physical totem could become a reality within the next five years.”
Mr Walsh, who is the curator of Irish Queer Archive, is also seeking the digitisation and open access of archives of HIV Ireland, GAY Health Action and HIV/ AIDS-related documents held in the collections of the Irish Queer Archive at the National Library of Ireland. A selection of archive material will be on display at the conference on Thursday.
Supporting the call for a national AIDS memorial, Executive Director of HIV Ireland, Niall Mulligan said: “Nearly 8,000 people in Ireland have been diagnosed with HIV since the early 1980s, and while improvements in treatment have greatly enhanced people’s life expectancy and their quality of life, significant stigma still exists around being HIV positive. A recent survey we conducted among people living with HIV in Ireland found more than half of those polled had not disclosed their HIV status at some point as they were afraid they would be discriminated against.
“A national AIDS memorial would recognise the lives lost, the grief and sorrow of those left behind, as well as acting as a reminder that there is still work to do to eliminate new HIV infections in Ireland, and combatting HIV-related stigma and discrimination.”
The one-day conference will explore the history of HIV, stigma and social inclusion in addiction, homelessness, sex work, the LGBT community, the migrant community, and people living with HIV in Ireland since 1987. The findings of the ‘HIV in Ireland 2017’ survey will also be launched.
Contact: Joanne Ahern (until 3pm) / Louise Archbold (after 3pm), DHR Communications, Tel: 087-9881837 / 087-2601145.
Notes to Editors:
- Niall Mulligan is available for interview.
About HIV Ireland:
HIV Ireland is a registered charity operating at local, national and European level. The principal aim of the organisation is to improve, through a range of support services, conditions for people living with HIV and AIDS and/or Hepatitis, their families and their caregivers while further promoting sexual health in the general population.
Our mission and vision is to contribute towards a significant reduction in the incidence and prevalence of HIV in Ireland and towards the realisation of an AIDS-free generation by advocating for individuals living with HIV, preventing new HIV infections and combating HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
Since 1987 HIV Ireland has been pioneering services in sexual health education and promotion, and has consistently engaged in lobbying and campaigning in the promotion of human rights. Our approach broadly reflects a harm minimisation model which emphasises practical rather than idealised goals.
Risk-taking and growing culture of chemsex are key factors behind rise of STIs, experts say.
This article was published in the Irish Times on 3rd September 2017.
The number of people diagnosed with HIV in Ireland is rising amid concerns that ambivalence about the disease is putting increasing numbers of people at risk.
A record 512 cases of HIV were diagnosed in the State last year.
Rates have been rising steadily since 2011, with experts saying “complacency and risk-taking” among a younger generation is contributing to the rising numbers.
“This generation hasn’t grown up with the legacy or even the reality of HIV,” said HIV Ireland executive director, Niall Mulligan.
“It was a massive issue in the 1980s and we were aware of it. We were very scared and, thankfully, this is not the case now but I think we still need a greater level of education and awareness for this generation.”
“The treatment is so much better now than it was 15 or even 10 years ago. The medication available now has probably decreased the fear element somewhat, but I suppose it still doesn’t prepare people for the impact of being diagnosed with HIV, and the reality of the long-term impact on their lives.”
“I think there is certain logic to the idea that the growing number of HIV diagnoses could be because of sexual activity such as chemsex [the consumption of drugs to facilitate sexual activity]. We are concerned about the growing culture of chemsex here in Ireland,” said Mr Mulligan. “Chemsex definitely is an issue and is certainly on the increase in Ireland.”
In the UK, unprotected sex and communal drug use at chemsex parties are partly to blame for the high levels of HIV infection – which has been at around 6,000 people a year since 2009 – as well as the growing epidemic of syphilis, gonorrhea, and a new infection called lymphogranuloma venerium (LGV).
Along with the increase in HIV cases there has been a dramatic rise in other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) in Ireland in the past 12 months.
Dr Derek Freedman, a specialist in sexually-transmitted disease, told The Irish Times that as well as a growing culture of unprotected sex among the gay community, he has seen a rapid increase in the number of patients treated for other STIs.
“Certainly if you look at the number of people coming in with infections to be treated, it would appear chemsex and group sex parties are a problem,” said Dr Freedman.
“There has been an utter surge in cases of gonorrhoea, syphilis and with people coming to me with anxiety about HIV in the past 12 months. People became very afraid of HIV in the 1970s and the 1980s; people became very careful with their sexual activity. Infections like syphilis and gonorrhea had virtually disappeared, but then fast forward 20-30 years and we are seeing an epidemic.”
Dr Freedman said two factors needed to be examined.
These are the attitudes of a new generation towards HIV and secondly, the widespread availability of effective treatment for HIV.
“We need to look at the current generation who are born in the new age of HIV and are not so frightened of it. In fact, some would be foolish enough to count it as a badge of honour to have acquired HIV.
“Secondly, the widespread availability of effective treatment for HIV. We now have a range of almost 30 drugs we can use against this disease.
“However, there’s now the notion that these drugs are ‘so good’ as a preventative to stop you acquiring HIV, that you don’t need to be safe.
“This is the wrong attitude. People forget there are another 28 [STI]infections out there, some of which can be equally as lethal as HIV.”
Dr Freedman notes the growing online culture among the LGBT community of using apps such as Grindr for random sexual encounters; Tinder is an equal catalyst.
“We know PrEp (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is highly effective for HIV, and can reduce rates by 80 per cent, but not by 100 per cent,” said Dr Freedman. “Of course ,the drug should be available like any tool that is effective in reducing the disease. Who PrEP is suitable for is another matter.
“ The drug has been proven effective among a population of high risk-takers, particularly in London. People who are going to parties and are having maybe six or seven partners in a night.
“When we talk about chemsex we talk about parties where there are multiple sexual activities within a group. You are dealing with drugs that loosen the inhibitions and we see this in particular with gay men.
“This is all part of a spectrum of behaviour. Obviously chemsex and sex parties are very attractive to some people. We are seeing the potential for bridging from the risk-taking communities into the general community where people have partners or spouses.”
“The backbone of prevention today is test and treat. People who are taking risks should be tested on a regular basis. These party goers should be tested every three months depending on the activities they are engaging in.”
In a recent survey, the Gay Health Network (GHN) reported that 27 per cent of respondents admitted using crystal meth, GHB, GBL, mephedrone or other NPS (new psychoactive substances) to facilitate sex.
“G” – the term for depressant-type drugs GHB and GBL – was the most commonly used drug for chemsex, with 57 per cent of those engaging in chemsex having used the substance within the past 12 months.
“I think there is definitely a scene which would be described as the chemsex scene here in Ireland,” said Dr Des Crowley, addiction specialist at the Mountjoy Street Medical Practice.
“It’s the association of the use of chemical drugs with multiple sexual partners, group sex and unsafe sex. Individuals in general are engaging in more high-risk behaviour, which we know because of the rising level of sexually transmitted diseases.”
Dr Crowley said that people’s decision not to engage in safe sex is very complex. “I don’t think it’s just one thing. I think, clearly if your peers are engaging in this activity it might influence you. Also, the fact that HIV is no longer seen as the death sentence it once was, it’s seen as a chronic manageable disease.
Dr Crowley was keen to stress that not all of the rise in HIV diagnosis or STIs could be attributed to chemsex. “It’s not always in the context of the chemsex situation. Sometimes individuals are just engaging in high-risk behaviour.
“Clearly something like the Grindr app has changed the landscape for gay men. A lot of people go to international dance parties and Pride events so the gay scene has become very internationalised.
“My advice to people is to get tested if they are in doubt. If you have engaged in sexual activity, and you think you’ve been exposed, then go to a clinic and get PrEp which will significantly reduce the chances of a HIV transmission.”
HIV notifications in Ireland in 2016: 512
Men who have sex with men: 237
People who inject drugs: 19
(provisional data from Health Protection Surveillance Centre)