A new campaign aimed at addressing HIV-related stigma has been launched by the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme (SHCPP).
According to the SHCPP, HIV-related stigma can occur "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 testing because they fear getting a positive result," it said.
However, HIV infection is manageable and effective treatment allows those affected to stay healthy. Treatment can also restore health in people who have become unwell as a result of their HIV.
The SHCPP said that it is essential that these messages get through to as many people as possible, so that people with HIV are aware that it is possible to live a long and healthy life.
It is also essential that people realise the major progress that has been made in HIV treatment in relation to preventing sexual transmission. As a result, people who may have been exposed to the virus should not be concerned about having a HIV test.
"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," explained Dr Fiona Lyons, a consultant physician at the GUIDE clinic, which is Ireland's largest free sexually transmitted infection, HIV and infectious disease service.
As part of this new campaign, posters with the tagline, "Effective treatment means you can't pass HIV onto partners" will appear in colleges, social venues and on public transport nationwide.
"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 and highlight the importance of early testing and treatment for HIV," commented Maeve O'Brien, interim lead for sexual health and crisis pregnancy.
More information on the campaign can be found here.
For more information on HIV transmission, testing and treatment, click here.
For more information on the GUIDE clinic, click here.
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