ACT UP Dublin Highlight HIV Discrimination In Ireland For UNAIDS Zero Discrimination Day

On Zero Discrimination Day, Act Up Dublin are using social media to highlight the discrimination faced by people living with HIV in Ireland.

ACT UP Dublin Highlight HIV Discrimination In Ireland For UNAIDS Zero Discrimination Day
Image: @actupdublin/Instagram

Today is UNAIDS Zero Discrimination Day, the aim of which is to combat discrimination against people living with HIV globally.

HIV discrimination refers to the unequal treatment of someone based on their HIV status and can also affect the family and friends of people living with HIV. Often, this type of discrimination can be institutionalised through laws, policies, and practices. HIV-related discrimination is still prevalent in almost every part of the world – even in the most progressive of societies it exists and is almost always driven by misinformation and judgement.

Discrimination can affect anyone living with HIV, be they cis, trans, gay, straight, sex workers, migrants, immigrants, intravenous drug users, or people who are born with HIV. People living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on to a sexual partner; it is no longer a death sentence and people living with HIV can lead happy and healthy lives. There is no reason anyone should be treated unequally as a result of disclosing their status.

People living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on to a sexual partner; it is no longer a death sentence and people living with HIV can lead happy and healthy lives.

Closer to home, in 2017 HIV Ireland conducted research to better understand the types and levels of discrimination still facing people in Ireland today. Perhaps most shocking was that 22% of the survey’s respondents said that their HIV status had prevented them from acquiring health insurance. Some insurance companies are also denying life assurance to people due to their status, which in turn can lead to mortgage denial as this is a part of the application process, with 15% of those surveyed citing this as the reason they were denied a mortgage. While many people living with HIV have been successful in securing life assurance, this discrimination still exists and therefore requires challenging. It would appear that despite the many advances in science and medicine, some industries are yet to catch up.

More than a quarter (26%) of the survey respondents also said they had been prevented from travelling abroad due to their HIV status. We know that very few countries restrict tourists living with HIV from entering for short-term stays. However, if the plan is to stay for a longer period of time, for example to work or live, people living with HIV may face greater difficulties in up to 50 countries worldwide.

Treatment and care for HIV is free in Ireland, and HSE figures indicate that the overwhelming majority of people who are in care and on treatment are virally suppressed

Earlier this month ACT UP Dublin member, Robbie Lawlor spoke on RTE’s Late Late Show about how his diagnosis affected his plans to travel to Australia. Robbie, who has been campaigning for increased awareness of HIV in Ireland since his diagnosis at 21, had just finished college and was planning to move to Australia to live and to pursue a career in zoology. Upon receiving his diagnoses his dreams were crushed as it wasn’t possible to get permanent residency in Australia in 2012 if you were HIV positive. While the ban has now been lifted, the high cost of medical bills and insurance would prevent many people living with HIV from moving there. Robbie’s story is highlighted in the currently-touring, must see Talking Shop Ensemble production, Rapids.

A very worrying 14% of respondents said they have been preventing from gaining employment as a result of their status. If someone is living with HIV and is either in or is seeking employment, they cannot be discriminated against under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004. If a person does feel they have experienced this type of HIV discrimination, it is vital they contact the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Other activities that survey respondents reported they had not engaged in as a result of being HIV positive included getting a tattoo, getting a visa, getting a pension, and moving job. The results were quite shocking and a clear indication that education and awareness needs to be a priority for Government.

Treatment and care for HIV is free in Ireland, and HSE figures indicate that the overwhelming majority of people who are in care and on treatment are virally suppressed – meaning there is zero risk of them passing on HIV. Regrettably, public attitudes about HIV have not advanced as quickly as medical science, and people living with HIV continue to face discrimination and stigma. This was underscored in the same HIV Ireland report from 2017 which found that almost one fifth of people living with HIV reported feeling suicidal in the last year.

Stigma is the negative stereotype and discrimination is the behaviour that results from this negative stereotype, and part of ACT UP Dublin’s mission to fight the shame that exists within Ireland when it comes to sex and the institutions that perpetuate this ignorance.

We have taken the proactive measure of drafting a guide of preferred language that empowers and helps reduce stigma.  We want to promote understanding, respect, and dignity for all people. Using appropriate language can help reduce stigma and change the general public’s opinion about HIV. The more awareness we bring to the issue the more change we can make.

Follow ACT UP Dublin on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

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