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The HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme (SHCPP) has today launched a new campaign to address HIV-related stigma.
HIV-related stigma can happen when misconceptions about HIV lead to negative attitudes towards people living with HIV or misunderstandings about what it means to receive a HIV diagnosis. HIV-related stigma can affect the mental wellbeing of people who are living with HIV.
Fear of being discriminated against or judged negatively can prevent people living with HIV from disclosing their HIV status or accessing treatment. HIV-related stigma can also deter people who may have been exposed to HIV from getting tested because they fear getting a positive result.
The number of people living with HIV in Ireland at the end of 2018 was estimated to be 7,200, of whom around 10 per cent remained undiagnosed. Approximately 88 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV were estimated to be on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 95 per cent of people on ART were estimated to be virally suppressed.
Effective HIV treatment allows people to remain healthy and can restore health in those who have become unwell with HIV infection. Furthermore, effective HIV treatment also prevents HIV being passed on to others.
According to the HSE, it is very important that these messages are communicated widely to ensure that people living with HIV know that they can live long and healthy lives and do not have to worry about passing on HIV to others. It is also very important that the public are aware of the progress that has been made in HIV treatment in relation to preventing sexual transmission and to encourage people who may have been exposed to HIV not to be concerned about having a HIV test.
Campaign posters with the tagline: ‘Effective treatment means you can’t pass HIV onto partners’, will appear in public transport, social venues and college locations across the country, as well as on digital platforms. The campaign also references the global U=U campaign (undetectable equals untransmittable).
The campaign was developed by the HSE SHCPP in consultation with community groups and sexual health NGO organisations. Funding for the campaign was provided by the Department of Health as part of the HIV Fast Track Cities Initiative.
Dr Fiona Lyons, Consultant Physician at the GUIDE clinic, said: “It is important that people have access to early testing and treatment for HIV. Effective treatment prevents HIV-associated illness for those living with HIV and reduces the level of virus in the body to an undetectable level, so that HIV cannot be transmitted to sexual partners.”
Ms Maeve O’Brien, Interim Lead for Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy, said: “There is still a lack of understanding around HIV and what it means to live with HIV today and it’s important to address this. This public awareness campaign will improve people’s understanding of HIV and highlight the importance of early testing and treatment for HIV.”
For more information on HIV transmission, testing and treatment please visit www.sexualwellbeing.ie/HIV. The campaign can be found at https://twitter.com/_respectprotect