HIV prevention and treatment has progressed considerably in recent years. Scientific advancements in medication means that being on effective HIV treatment means there is no risk of transmitting the virus to HIV negative partners.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which involve the prevention of HIV transmission using medication, have also proven to be effective. Society’s knowledge and awareness of this chronic illness has seen exponential medical improvement since we first became aware of it in the 1980s.
Despite these developments, there is still, unfortunately, significant HIV stigma in Ireland. A factor contributing to stigma is the misinformation amongst people with regards to HIV and how it is transmitted. Inaccurate information can prevent people from accessing care services, such as testing and treatment. What’s more, many people are unaware of the testing and treatment that are available in Ireland. With HIV, regular testing and access to treatment are crucial, and early diagnosis improves the medical outcomes for all.
World AIDS Day encompasses the efforts to end HIV stigma, raise awareness about testing and treatment, encourage preventative measures, and show support to those living with HIV. Each year, December 1 marks this important occasion.
On Saturday, November 28, the Sexual Health Centre in Cork is spearheading the third annual World AIDS Day run in collaboration with Healthy Ireland, the HSE, and sexualwellbeing.ie.
Adhering to government guidelines is a top priority, which means the normal course of action had to take a slight deviation. We have had to come up with a creative solution to adapt, and so, our first-ever virtual run has been established.
While we have focused on Cork and Kerry in previous years, making the event virtual allows us to expand our reach across Ireland. Thus, we can increase the extent to which we advocate for this important cause and empower people throughout the country to show solidarity with people living with HIV.
After completing the free registration, participants nationwide are invited to head out for a walk or run within their 5km limits, raising awareness about the cause by wearing their World AIDS Day t- shirt and/or red ribbon, which we will provide. We are also encouraging people to take a picture of themselves to share on social media with a message about World AIDS Day, or to send on to the Sexual Health Centre. Our hope is that these efforts will spark a much-needed dialogue. Education is key to combatting stigma so we, as a nation, must keep the conversation going.
At the Sexual Health Centre, our organisational mission involves removing the barriers that can often prevent people from accessing care for their sexual health. In doing this, we communicate our core values, which include recognising sexual health as an integral part of life and doing our part to reduce stigma and discrimination.
A focal point in our calendar, World AIDS Day affords us the opportunity to bolster the promotion of these values by encouraging people to join together and inform themselves and others about HIV.
The World AIDS Day run is part of our continual efforts to combat the misconceptions and stigma around HIV that endure in Ireland, and the realities of the 6,000 people throughout the country who are living with HIV. It also aims to highlight the importance of regular testing, and the availability of testing nationwide, including the Rapid HIV test which we offer both in the centre and in various outreach settings.
Among the myths that we address are those that remain as truth in many peoples’ consciousness, such as the idea that you can contract HIV from kissing or sharing utensils. We also aim to spread awareness about “U equals U”, which stands for undetectable equals untransmittable. This message conveys that someone who is on effective treatment for HIV cannot pass HIV on through sexual intercourse.
This year has brought about a lot of changes, with all of us having to adjust to our ‘new normal’. In our reaction to this challenging year, and our support of those around us even amidst physical distancing restrictions, the people of Ireland have demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity, as well as an exceptional dedication to supporting important causes. With this in mind, we remain hopeful that the first virtual World AIDS Day Run in Ireland will achieve what it set out to do. While we may not be able to congregate physically, we can still join in and run in solidarity with those living with HIV, promote HIV testing and prevention, and end stigma together.
To register for the virtual event and receive a free World AIDS Day t-shirt, please visit: www.sexualhealthcentre.com/world-aids-day-run-2020.
Tomorrow each of us will wear the dri-fit top for a walk or run to open a dialogue and address stigma in our communities.
The Sexual Health Centre runs a free HIV testing service, which is still available by appointment throughout restrictions. Further information on testing venues and times are available via the following links: Sexual Health Centre: www.sexualhealthcentre.com/events HIV Ireland: www.hivireland.ie/hiv/testing/free-hiv-sti-testing-centre-locator/