Press Release: Ireland must not miss ‘crucial window’ for eliminating HIV and AIDS
15th June 2021 – for immediate release
The Irish Government must redouble its efforts or risk missing a crucial window to end HIV and related stigma, an event marking Irish AIDS Day (15 June 2021) heard today. The call was made following a renewed commitment at the global level towards ending HIV transmissions by 2030. A set of ambitious targets to facilitate reaching this goal was agreed by UN Member States at the culmination of last week’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN General Assembly in New York (June 8-10). The meeting coincided with the recent 40-year anniversary of the emergence of HIV and AIDS as a public health emergency (5 June 1981).
Speaking following today’s event entitled The Final Countdown: Reflections on 40 years of HIV, It’s A Sin and AIDS and how we can end new HIV transmissions by 2030, Executive Director of HIV Ireland Mr Stephen O’Hare said, “Ireland must keep pace with our neighbours in the UK and the EU on ending HIV transmission and relate stigma.”
“This means increased investment in free, accessible, peer-led community-based testing services,” continued Mr O’Hare” coupled with far greater investment in the wide range of prevention options at our disposal.” “Above all,” said Mr O’Hare, “it means real and sustained investment in shattering the wall of stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.”
Reflections on 40 Years of HIV and AIDS
A distinguished panel of scholars, campaigners and activists joined broadcaster Ciara Plunkett of Kildare FM for a live streamed event to reflect on the past 40 years of HIV and AIDS.
Lisa Power of Fast Track Cardiff and Vale, one of the founding members of Stonewall – the UKs largest LGBTI+ civil society organisation – described the impact of the highly acclaimed Russell T Davies series “It’s A Sin” in which she acted as a historical consultant.
“If we are to persuade everyone that it is worthwhile getting tested, we need to ensure that everyone is getting the message,” said Ms Power. “It’s A Sin has given the message a real boost. We need to capitalise on that,” she added.
Prof Ann Nolan, Assistant Professor in Global Health and Director of the MSc in Global Health at the Trinity Centre for Global Health (TCGH) recalled the activism of the grassroots Gay Health Action in the early 80s, a forerunner to activist organisations including HIV Ireland, in communicating information about sexual health not often heard in the public domain. The role of the Irish Bishop’s Conference in leading a task force, together with community activists, to challenge the intransigence of the Irish Government at the time was also recalled.
Prof Nolan also noted the key role of women in a movement often viewed as dominated by gay men. “Women were also active” said Prof Nolan, “but their story is much less visible.”
Dr Cormac O’Brien, Lecturer in Anglo-Irish Drama in the School of English, Drama and Film at UCD, noted the stigmatising way HIV and AIDS has been represented in Irish literature and drama, often portraying “anachronistic”, “out-of-time” imagery of people who are sick or dying.”
“[As] there has never been a fully successful, nationwide, Government-funded information campaign on HIV and AIDS,” opined Dr O’Brien “people will look to [dramatic portrayal] for that information.”
“If the culture is providing stigmatising, doom-laden, frightening representations all the time, then that’s the only way we are going to know about this disease,” he said.
Bruce Richman, founder of the US based Prevention Access Campaign spoke about the different ways messaging around HIV prevention and stigma can be used to achieve the goal of ending HIV and HIV related stigma. He described the U equals U – Undetectable equals Untransmittable – campaign pioneered by PAC at a global level as a movement of people living with HIV working to ‘get the message out’ that ‘if you are living with HIV, on effective medication and have achieved suppression of the virus in your body, you cannot pass on HIV’.
“The ‘U equals U’ message needed to be institutionalised,” said Mr Richman. “We are using ‘U equals U’ as a public health argument” he said. “If you ensure people with HIV stay healthy and have what we need to be undetectable [viral load] …we not only stay healthy, but we can’t pass on HIV and that’s the most effective way to end the epidemic” he added.
The event was organised by HIV Ireland and Gay Community News to mark Irish AIDS Day 2021.
Notes to Editors
More information is available from HIV Ireland at www.hivireland.ie/thefinalcountdown.
View HIV Ireland’s Media Guidelines for reporting on HIV and AIDS.