Irish AIDS Day 2021 advocates urge that Ireland must not miss 'crucial window' for eliminating HIV and AIDS

A group of distinguished scholars came together yesterday for Irish AIDS Day to discuss the past 40 years of HIV in Ireland, and to talk about the future of the battle against the disease.


At an Irish AIDS Day event yesterday (15 June 2021) advocates suggested that the Irish government must redouble its efforts against HIV and related stigma or risk missing a ‘crucial window’ to bring them to an end. The call to action comes amidst a renewed global commitment to ending HIV transmission by 2030.

UN Member States agreed on a series of ambitious steps to achieve this goal at last week’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN General Assembly in New York. The meeting took place on the recent 40-year anniversary of the emergence of HIV/AIDS as a public health crisis on June 5, 1981.

Yesterday’s Irish AIDS Day event, titled ‘The Final Countdown: Reflections on 40 years of HIV, Its A Sin and AIDS and how we can end new HIV transmissions by 2030’, saw Executive Director of HIV Ireland, Stephen O’Hare suggest that “Ireland must keep pace with our neighbours in the UK and the EU on ending HIV and related stigma.”

“This means increased investment in free, accessible, peer-led community-based testing services,” continued O’Hare. “Above all, it means real and sustained investment in shattering the wall of stigma around HIV and AIDS.”

Reflections on 40 Years of HIV and AIDS

Tuesday’s ‘The Final Countdown’ broadcast, a team-up between GCN and HIV Ireland, saw a distinguished panel of scholars, campaigners, and activists as they joined broadcaster Ciara Plunkett of Kildare FM to reflect on the past 40 years of HIV and AIDS on Irish AIDS Day 2021.

Lisa Powell of Fast Track Cardiff and Vale, one of the founding members of Stonewall – the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ civil society organisation – spoke on the impact of Russell T Davies’ highly acclaimed series ‘It’s A Sin’ on 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. ‘It’s A Sin’ has given the message a real boost. We need to capitalise on that,” said Powell.

Professor Ann Nolan, Assistant Professor in Global Health and Director of the MSc in Global Health at the Trinity Centre for Global Health, recalled the grassroots activism of Gay Health Action in the early 80s, a precursor to organisations like HIV Ireland, in disseminating information about sexual health that was being left out of mainstream public health services.

Prof Nolan also called for a more inclusive and realistic view of the history of HIV and AIDS in Ireland, which she suggests is too often dominated by gay men. “Women were also active, but their history is much less visible,” she added.

Dr Cormac O’Brien, Lecturer in Anglo-Irish Drama at UCD’s School of English, Drama, and Film, spoke on the worrying ways in which HIV and AIDS have been stigmatised in Irish literature and drama, often portraying “anachronistic”, “out-of-time” imagery of people who are “sick and dying.”

“[As] there has never been a fully successful nationwide, Government-funded information campaign on HIV and AIDS, people will look to [dramatic portrayal] for that information,” said Dr O’Brien.

“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 added.

Bruce Richman, founder of the US-based Prevention Access Campaign discussed different ways in which messaging around HIV prevention and stigma could be used to bring an end to HIV and related stigma in the next ten years.

He spoke specifically about the U equals U – Undetectable equals Untransmittable – campaign pioneered by PAC on a global scale to educate people that “if you are living with HIV, on effective medication and have achieved suppression of the virus in the body, you cannot pass on HIV.”

“The ‘U equals U’ message needed to be institutionalised. We are using ‘U equals U’ as a public health argument,” Richman 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 cannot pass on HIV, and that’s the most effective way to end the epidemic,” he added.

‘The Final Countdown’ was organisd by HIV Ireland and GCN to commemorate Irish AIDS Day 2021.

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