Stigma towards HIV causes fear of judgement and lack of honesty

by Amy Murphy

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Nearly 20 percent of HIV positive people living in Ireland have felt suicidal in the last year, five times the national average of four per cent.

A survey conducted by HIV Ireland found there is a significant burden caused by HIV stigma in Ireland. Over 50 per cent of people surveyed revealed they feared being outed as HIV positive by other people.

Being honest about their HIV status was a huge problem for HIV positive people, with 61 per cent of the those surveyed reporting they had not disclosed their diagnosis for fear of being judged.

HIV diagnoses in Ireland increased by five per cent in 2016 with 508 new cases detected. However, the survey found that there were high levels of misinformation and a lack of knowledge, particularly amongst younger age groups.

Nearly a quarter of people surveyed believe HIV can be transmitted by kissing, while 11 per cent believe it can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing.

Dean O’Reilly, Chairperson of DCU LGBTA Society said, “In general, I’d find that young people are wildly uneducated on HIV… I’m in no way surprised that these are things that people believe.”

Regarding society members of DCU LGBTA, O’Reilly said, “I’d contest that members are generally more informed of HIV. We make a point to put on informative workshops throughout the year and we have close ties with HIV Ireland. By no means are we experts, but I can certainly tell you that 24 per cent of our members wouldn’t think HIV is transmitted by kissing.”

According to figures from the HSE, over 50 per cent of new HIV cases in Ireland last year were among men who have sex with men (MSM). This subgroup still remains the most affected by HIV.

Concerning these statistics, Dean said “By the very notion that individuals consider HIV to be a ‘gay’ disease, I would contest that gay men are highly stigmatized, especially those HIV positive. It is disappointing that such a stigma continues to thrive, especially in our own community.”

Dean added, “MSM continue to be disallowed to donate blood unless they remain abstinent for one year… this blood-ban continues from systemic oppression and stigma.”

Amy Murphy 

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